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Amazon has launched its first internet satellites to compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink

Amazon has launched its first internet satellites to compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink

Amazon aimed Elon Musk’s Starlink broadband service on Friday by launching its first two satellites into orbit. The satellites were test models for Project Kuiper, Amazon’s $10 billion proposal to build a constellation of more than 3,200 satellites over the course of six years to deliver high-speed internet services to the world.

The business has previously stated that the network will support tens of millions of users and wants “to help close that digital divide by delivering affordable, high-speed internet service to unserved and underserved communities worldwide.

According to a statement from Amazon, KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 were launched by United Launch Alliance (ULA) using an Atlas V rocket. They were sent into orbit 500 kilometers (311 miles) above Earth. After modifications to the rocket-delivery system were performed, the launch was postponed to late 2022.

The prototype satellites, however, will now be used to test every component of the Kuiper System before the whole network is launched following a successful launch. According to Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper, “the launch today started a new phase of our Protoflight mission, and there’s a long way to go, but it’s an exciting milestone all the same.”

 “I’m tremendously grateful to the Project Kuiper team for their dedication in getting us to this point, and to our partners at United Launch Alliance who helped us deploy our first spacecraft ever into orbit,” he continued. Elon Musk’s Starlink broadband network, the most reputable low-orbit satellite internet service, will face direct competition from Project Kuiper.

Since May 2019, more than 4,000 Starlink satellites have been placed into orbit, and just last month, SpaceX revealed that more than 2 million people were using its internet services. Putting the tech corporation in direct rivalry with SpaceX and its Starlink system, Amazon has formally entered the race to develop prominent constellations of satellites that can provide internet coverage to the entire planet. At 2:06 p.m. ET on Friday, a United Launch Alliance rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying the first two prototype satellites for Amazon’s network, Project Kuiper.

According to Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology at Project Kuiper, there is no substitute for on-orbit testing. “We’ve done extensive testing here in our lab and have a high confidence level in our satellite design,” he added. No matter what happens with the mission, we will learn a lot because this is Amazon’s first time launching satellites into space. After the rocket’s first stage, which gives liftoff its initial boost, finished firing its engines, United Launch Alliance switched off the live broadcast of the launch. In a recent release, the business acknowledged “mission success” and claimed to have “precisely” delivered the satellites. Amazon did not immediately confirm contact with the satellites.

The task might be queued up if it is successful. Amazon will start putting hundreds more satellites into orbit to beam internet connectivity to the Earth. Eventually, the company will create a network of more than 3,200 satellites to cooperate. The SpaceX constellation Starlink has been expanding fast since 2019 and has the same commercial model. Already, SpaceX has more than 4,500 Starlink satellites in operation. There is a revolution taking on in the space sector. Large, pricey satellites in geosynchronous orbit, thousands of miles from Earth, were responsible for most space-based telecommunications services until recently.

The disadvantage of this space-based internet approach was that the satellites’ great distance led to annoying lag times. The satellite sector dreamed of providing high-speed, space-based internet to customers even before those businesses started to develop their services. Numerous initiatives in the 1990s either failed and led to bankruptcy or required corporate owners to change their strategies due to costs greater than benefits.

“Mega constellations” in low-Earth orbit, or LEO, less than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) above Earth, have emerged due to more affordable satellites and decreased launch costs. Satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) move quickly past one another in contrast to geostationary orbit, which enables satellites to remain fixed over the same region of Earth and beam uninterrupted service to a specific location.

Therefore, thousands of satellites must cooperate for this method to successfully cover the earth in connectivity. A revolution might result from such broad high-speed internet access. United Nations figures show that as of 2021, around 3 billion people worldwide still lacked access to even the most basic internet services.

Forbidding Ukrainian troops on the front lines of the war with Russia from accessing Starlink services, which had been essential to Ukraine’s military operations, the corporation experienced a notable backlash in late 2022 and early 2023. (The business eventually changed its mind; the founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, recently wrote a book addressing the Ukraine topic). If the network is effective, it’s feasible that Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation, which is subject to comparable geopolitical influences, may join that discussion.

“I’m also interested to know if Amazon aims to offer dual-use features where the government/defense sector will be a key client. Gregory Falco, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, warned that this might lead to Kuiper being targeted similarly to how Starlink was in Ukraine. The enormous satellite mega-constellations required to beam internet over the world are debatable despite the claims of a revolution in worldwide internet access. Numerous space debris fragments have already accumulated in low-Earth orbit.

Furthermore, the problem is made worse because the number of objects in space increases the likelihood of devastating collisions. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission—the body that grants permission for space-based telecom services—started strengthening its guidelines for space debris prevention. For its part, the satellite industry has generally committed to following suggested best practices, including a commitment to deorbit satellites when operations are complete.

Amazon previously outlined its sustainability goals in a blog post from May, including how it would ensure its satellites could navigate while in orbit. Amazon will securely deorbit the first two test satellites after the conclusion of their mission. Separately, astronomers have consistently expressed concerns regarding the effects of all of these low-Earth orbit satellites on the night sky, cautioning that these artificial objects may interfere with, skew, and obstruct telescope observations, as well as impede ongoing study. Amazon allayed any worries by stating that one of the two prototype satellites launched on Friday will test anti-reflective technology to reduce telescope interference. According to Brecke Boyd, an Amazon spokesman, the business has consulted astronomers from institutions, including the National Science Foundation.

Amazon owns no rockets. Additionally, years have passed since the project was supposed to start, even though the Jeff Bezos-founded rocket business Blue Origin is developing a rocket that can reach orbit. Until notice, United Launch Alliance, a close ally of Blue Origin, provides the rockets used to launch Kuiper spacecraft.

Amazon has a launch agreement for Project Kuiper with European launch services Arianespace ULA and Blue Origin. A complaint over the launch contracts was brought against Amazon on August 28 by The Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, which holds stock in the firm.

The lawsuit claims Amazon executives “consciously and intentionally breached their most basic fiduciary responsibilities” by, among other things, declining the opportunity to launch Project Kuiper satellites on SpaceX rockets. An Amazon spokeswoman said, “We look forward to proving the claims in this lawsuit are completely without merit through the legal process.” According to a news release, Amazon plans to launch its first production satellites early next year and start beta testing to inaugural customers by the end of 2024 if everything goes according to plan.

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