Originally intended to launch on the inaugural Vulcan Centaur mission, Amazon has moved the two prototype Kuiper satellites off of the delayed rocket to United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V.
As we theorized last month, Amazon has secured the launch of the 2 Kuiper satellites on the Atlas V. The Atlas V will fly in the 501 configuration, which is capable of launching 8,210 kg (18,100 lbs) to low Earth orbit. The prototypes are expected to weigh at least a couple hundred kilograms, but that has not been confirmed by Amazon. It is possible they are more similar to the OneWeb satellite design than the SpaceX Starlink.
Amazon, which recently announced the construction of a Kuiper satellite processing facility at Space Florida’s Launch and Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is likely pushing to get these two prototype satellites to orbit in order to verify designs and capabilities so they can get the main part of the constellation underway.
Amazon currently has launch contracts for their constellation, including 38 on Vulcan Centaur, 18 on Ariane 6, 12 on New Glenn, and nine on Atlas V.
However, the shift to Atlas V for Kuiper 1 and 2 makes eight launches on that rocket. It is the only operational rocket capable of launching out of those three.
United Launch Alliance still expects their Vulcan Centaur to launch later this year, but that is no guarantee as they finish strengthening the Centaur V upper stage and testing the fix.
The Kuiper constellation, once completed, will be over 3,200 satellites in low Earth orbit with the hopes of competing against the Starlink constellation that is full speed ahead in its own operational and deployment phase.
The launch of the 2 Kuiper prototype satellites could come as soon as late next month once the launch pad is clear of United Launch Alliance’s current mission, the Silentbarker (NROL-107) satellite for the United States Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office.
Disclosure: Richard Angle is not an AMZN shareholder.
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