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Final Exam: Amazon’s Project Kuiper initiates the deorbiting of prototype broadband satellites

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Amazon has successfully completed tests on two prototype satellites as part of Project Kuiper, its $10 billion initiative to provide global high-speed internet service from low Earth orbit. The Kuipersat prototypes were launched in October to test the hardware and software systems that will be used for the full 3,232-satellite network. These prototypes were used to transmit data for various applications, including streaming video, Amazon purchases, and two-way video calls. Additionally, Amazon tested a laser communication system for beaming data between satellites.

Now that the tests have been successful, Amazon has begun the process of bringing the Kuipersat prototypes back down from orbit. The deorbiting operations began in late April, with the satellites’ current altitude ranging from 285 to 292 miles. Over the next four to six months, the satellites will continue using their solar electric propulsion systems for orbit-lowering maneuvers. Ground controllers will track the process and take active measures if necessary to reduce the risk of collisions. The ultimate goal is to lower the satellites to an altitude of around 217 miles, at which point atmospheric demise will follow.

The controlled descent and safe disposal of the Kuipersats serve as an important final test for Project Kuiper’s orbital debris mitigation plan. Each satellite in the network is required to be deorbited within a year after its mission ends. Amazon will collect data on the deorbit process as satellites are gradually lowered from their initial altitude, providing valuable insights for the full constellation deployment. With the successful completion of these final tests, Amazon is now ramping up operations at a factory in Kirkland, Wash., to build production-grade satellites for Project Kuiper.

The first production satellites are expected to be launched in the next few months, with Amazon aiming to have enough satellites deployed by the end of 2024 to begin offering demonstrations to early enterprise customers. Project Kuiper is projected to produce up to five satellites a day once its facilities in Kirkland and Redmond, Wash., reach full capacity. Amazon is required to deploy half of the network’s 3,232 satellites by mid-2026, with the remainder to be deployed by 2029. The project has seen significant progress over the past year, with partnerships with high-profile companies like Verizon and Vodafone contributing to its success.

While Project Kuiper has faced competition from SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, Amazon has made significant strides in catching up. With successful tests of the Kuipersat prototypes and plans in place for the full constellation deployment, Project Kuiper is on track to provide global high-speed internet service from low Earth orbit. Amazon’s commitment to orbital debris mitigation and safe satellite disposal demonstrates its dedication to responsible space operations. As the project continues to move forward, it holds the potential to revolutionize global connectivity and bridge the digital divide for underserved communities around the world.

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