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Image Credit: United Launch Alliance.

Amazon selects ULA to launch Project Kuiper satellites

Amazon and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) yesterday announced, that Amazon has booked nine launches of ULA’s Atlas V rocket to launch multiple of their Project Kuiper satellites.

Project Kuiper

Project Kuiper is a planned satellite constellation, which will consist of 3,236 spacecraft stationed in low Earth orbit (LEO). Amazon will use these satellites to provide fast, affordable broadband internet access to places where traditional access is not releable, to expensive, or just unavailable at all.

Amazon however is not just the only company planning to build a large satellite constellation. OneWeb and SpaceX for example even already began construction of theirs.

The major advantages of such constellations compared to geostationary communications satellites are their close proximity to Earth, which enables a shorter latency, and their capability to provide converage even to places near Earth’s poles. Due to their position about 36,000 km above the planet’s equator, GEO satellites are not able to serve these places because the curvature of the Earth makes visual contact with the satellite impossible.

The launch vehicle

Atlas V is a two-stage, medium-lift launch vehicle capable of launching up to 18,850 kg into a 28.7┬░ inclined low Earth orbit, or 8,900 kg into GEO. Multiple configurations of the rocket are available. It can either launch with a 4-m or a 5-m diameter payload fairing, one or two engines on its second stage and none to five solid rocket boosters attached to its first stage.

Launch of an Atlas V. Image Credit: United Launch Alliance.
Launch of an Atlas V. Image Credit: United Launch Alliance.

The number of satellites each Atlas V will carry, the configuration of the launch vehicles or the launch dates have not yet been announced.

Due to the large amount of spacecraft, launching the Project Kuiper constellation will take a while. The nine Atlas V rockets now booked by Amazon will most likely be used to carry the first or at least one of the first satellites into orbit. A large amount of spacecraft might however be launched on the New Glenn rocket, a large partially reusable launch vehicle currently developed by Blue Origon, an aerospace manufacturer funded by Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos.


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