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FCC Approves Amazon Kuiper Orbital Debris Plan, Clearing Way for Deployment

By Rachel Jewett | February 9, 2023

Amazon acquires a new 172,000-square-foot facility in Washington state for satellite production for Project Kuiper. Photo: Amazon

The FCC approved an updated orbital debris mitigation plan for Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite constellation, clearing the way for Amazon to deploy the constellation. 

The FCC approved Amazon’s orbital debris plan, addressed concerns from other satellite operators and organizations including SpaceX and Viasat, and mandated that Amazon provide semi-annual conjunction and debris reports. 

Kuiper is Amazon’s Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation to provide satellite internet in the works, a future competitor with SpaceX Starlink and OneWeb. The FCC previously granted Amazon approval in 2020 to deploy the 3,236-satellite constellation, conditioned on getting an updated orbital debris mitigation plan approved. 

The document released Feb. 8 mandates that the Kuiper subsidiary, Kuiper Systems LLC, submit a semi-annual report with the number of conjunction events and the number of events that resulted in an action; satellites that were disposed of; any disposal failures; and any collision avoidance system outages. 

The FCC addressed a number of concerns from other operators and organizations. SpaceX, for example, asked the FCC to impose the same condition about post-mission disposal imposed on SpaceX. The rule for SpaceX is that if the remaining orbital lifetime of any failed satellites and if the cumulative number of years for all failed satellites exceeds 100, SpaceX must stop deploying Starlink while the satellite failures are reviewed. 

But the FCC declined to put this condition on Kuiper at this point because it has not started deploying the constellation yet and there is no data on spacecraft reliability. 

FCC addressed other concerns from SpaceX, Viasat, Kepler Communications, NASA, and the National Science Foundation as well. 

“We encourage Kuiper to continue its good faith efforts and coordination with NASA, NSF, and other stakeholders in an effort to ensure a mutually beneficial sustainable space environment to maximize public interest benefits,” the FCC said. “The conditions we adopt today will ensure that Kuiper’s satellites are being built, deployed and operated in a manner that serves the public interest by facilitating co-existence with other critical services, including those using various ranges of electromagnetic spectrum, enabling safe operation and reduced interference, and preserving sustainability of the space environment and orbital resources.” 

The approval also reiterates Amazon’s deadlines to deploy the constellation — Kuiper must launch 50% of the satellites by July 30, 2026, and launch the remaining satellites by July 20, 2029. 

Julie Zoller, head of Global Regulatory Affairs for Project Kuiper, thanked the FCC for its approval in a statement posted to LinkedIn. “Space safety is a core tenet for the Kuiper team, and we’re committed to operating safely and responsibly in space. Our orbital debris mitigation plans demonstrate the Kuiper System is designed to meet or exceed all requirements set forth by the FCC. We are pleased that the Commission has granted our application and we appreciate the coordination to ensure the industry is prioritizing safety,” Zoller wrote.

Amazon has begun ramping up manufacturing on the constellation, and the first two prototype satellites are set to launch soon on United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) first Vulcan Centaur launch.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy recently spoke about how the Kuiper constellation is part of a company strategy to invest in Amazon’s long-term future, saying it is among the investments that could “change broad customer experiences and change Amazon over time,” potentially becoming a fourth pillar of the company.