Science

Amazon Switches Spacecraft for Launching Internet Satellites Next Month

Amazon.com plans to launch its first pair of prototype internet satellites late next month on a different rocket than previously planned, a spokesman said on Monday, again switching rides for the spacecraft to avoid mounting rocket delays.

The company will launch the first two satellites for Amazon’s Kuiper program, which aims to offer internet globally from space, aboard a dedicated Atlas V rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA), spokesman James Watkins said.

The targeted launch date is September 26, he said.

Amazon last year announced plans to launch the satellite pair aboard the first flight of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket, moving them off previously planned rockets from launch startup ABL Space to avoid delays in ABL’s rocket development.

But delays with Vulcan have prompted Amazon to again switch rides as the e-commerce giant faces a 2026 regulatory deadline to deploy half of the 3,200 satellites planned for its Kuiper internet network.

Vulcan, which had been expected to launch in early 2023 at the time of Amazon’s decision to use it, has run into testing hiccups that now peg its target launch date in the fourth quarter of 2023, a ULA spokeswoman said.

RACE TO ORBIT

Aiming to complement Amazon’s web services powerhouse and compete with the more established Starlink network from Elon Musk‘s SpaceX, Amazon has vowed to put $10 billion (roughly Rs. 82,700 crore) into the satellite internet endeavor and in 2022 bagged 83 launches to deploy it in orbit, marking the largest commercial launch procurement ever.

Nine of those launches include the Atlas V rocket, ULA’s workhorse launcher that has lofted satellites to space in multibillion-dollar science missions for NASA and the bulk of US national security missions for the Pentagon.

ULA 2021 stopped selling the Atlas V and has 19 more missions to fly before the rocket retires, ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said. The company had imported the rocket’s Russian-made RD-180 engines in bulk for those remaining missions and has no plans to order more.

It was unclear whether the Atlas V launch planned for September counts as one of the nine that Amazon previously procured. 

© Thomson Reuters 2023 


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