Amazon sends first Project Kuiper satellites into orbit

In a space race between the two businesses launched by Jeff Bezos, his e-commerce company Amazon looks set to corner his rocket company Blue Origin.

Two Amazon prototype satellites were launched atop an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Friday. They are part of Project Kuiper, a communications constellation that will eventually consist of more than 3,200 satellites. It will compete with SpaceX’s Starlink and other space-based Internet services.

The rocket was launched at 2:06 PM ET. The T rocket’s upper stage then separated from the booster for several minutes of flight, carrying the satellites into orbit.

In A press release, United Launch Alliance, the company that launched the Atlas V rocket into space, said the launch was successful, indicating that the rocket sent both satellites into the desired 311-mile-high orbit. As of Friday afternoon, Amazon had not provided an update on the status of its satellites.

After tests of the solar panels and the spacecraft’s systems, the satellites should provide Internet connections to consumers on the ground from space to the company’s flat, square antennas.

“This is the first time Amazon has put satellites into space, and we’re going to learn an incredible amount regardless of how this mission unfolds,” said Rajeev Pathyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon. Before initiation.

Amazon builds satellites and another of Mr. Bezos’s companies builds rockets, so why doesn’t one fly the other? That’s because Blue Origin hasn’t launched anything into orbit yet.

While its companion space tourism rocket, New Shepard, has made several flights, the New Glenn rocket, which has been in development for more than a decade, is at least three years behind schedule to carry payloads such as the Kuiper satellites into orbit. Its first flight is due to take off next year.

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In April last year, Amazon announced a massive purchase of up to 83 missiles, the largest ever commercial purchase of rocket launchers. Of these, 27 belong to Blue Origin, and the rest to France’s Arianespace and America’s United Launch Alliance. Contracts with other companies also rely on new rockets that have yet to fly: Ariane 6 from Arianespace and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan.

Amazon earlier announced that it would buy nine of the venerable Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance. The Atlas V flew for more than two decades, but is being retired because it relies on Russian-made rocket engines.

The two satellites, KuperSat-1 and KuperSat-2, are what Amazon calls the protoflight mission for Kuiper. They were scheduled to ride as payload on the first launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket in May. But during a Vulcan upper stage test, a hydrogen leak ignited a fireball. In July, Tory Bruno, chief executive of United Launch Alliance, said the company was working on a solution and that the Vulcan’s first flight was still expected before the end of the year.

In August, Amazon announced it was switching rockets from the Vulcan to the Atlas V. This is the second rocket switch for Protoflight. Amazon had originally planned to launch Cybersat-1 and Cybersat-2 on ABL Space Systems’ small rockets, but ABL also faced delays.

Officials from Blue Origin, Arianespace and United Launch Alliance have said they expect to meet the schedule for the Kuiper launches.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates terrestrial satellite communications, approved the Amazon network in 2020. It gave the agency a deadline to launch half of its 3,236 satellites by July 2026.

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A pension fund that owns Amazon shares sued Amazon in August for not buying any missiles from SpaceX, which has launched Falcon 9 rockets 70 times this year and has contracted with other competitors for its Starlink service.

In a complaint filed by the Cleveland Packers and Teamsters Pension Fund, Amazon’s board approved the publishing deals after cursory reviews, and Blue Origin owner Mr. It also said it did not take steps to protect Amazon from potential conflicts of interest for Bezos. Amazon CEO at the time.

“For a year and a half, Bezos was free to identify and negotiate with publishing providers for Amazon, while also free to negotiate against Amazon on behalf of Blue Origin,” the lawsuit said.

Blue Origin will not only supply Amazon with new Glenn missiles, but also profit from Vulcan launches, as United Launch Alliance buys Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines to power the booster stage of Vulcan rockets.

An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement, “The claims in this lawsuit are completely without merit, and we look forward to showing that through the legal process.”

This case Mr. It reignited a years-long feud between Bezos and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk.

“Given their abysmal track record, Bezos had every reason to exclude Musk’s SpaceX from the process entirely,” the lawsuit said. “And it must be assumed that Bezos couldn’t swallow his pride in enlisting the help of his bitter rival to launch Amazon’s satellites.”

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