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Amazon Project Kuiper Prototype Satellites to Fly on First ULA Vulcan Mission in Early 2023

By Rachel Jewett | October 12, 2022
Rendering of the first ULA Vulcan launch with Amazon Kuiper satellites. Photo via Amazon.

Rendering of the first ULA Vulcan launch with Amazon Kuiper satellites. Photo via Amazon.

Amazon announced Wednesday that it will launch two prototype satellites for its Project Kuiper Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation next year on the first United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan mission. 

ULA separately confirmed that the first Vulcan launch has slipped to the first quarter of 2023, “to align with a request from customer payload” from Astrobotic, which  will be flying its Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon for NASA. Amazon’s satellites Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2 will also fly on the mission. 

ULA said the first Vulcan launch vehicle is nearing completion in ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama and is awaiting installation of its BE-4 engines, built by Blue Origin. The launcher expects to ship the completed vehicle to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in November.

“This has been an incredible journey to get to this point and I am so proud of the development team,” said ULA CEO Tory Bruno. “We look forward to the first flight as Vulcan offers all customers higher performance and greater affordability while continuing to deliver our unmatched reliability.”

ABL Space Systems was originally contracted to carry the prototype satellites on the RS1 rocket, which has not yet launched. Amazon said it is retaining those two launches. 

Amazon said this prototype mission will test how the satellite network works together. “We’ll use findings from the mission to help finalize design, deployment, and operational plans for our commercial satellite system, which will provide reliable, affordable broadband to customers around the world,” the company said. 

The Project Kuiper team is starting to scale production to support a full deployment of its planned 3,236-satellite constellation. and has secured up to 92 launches with ULA, Arianespace, and Blue Origin

“We’ve already secured 38 Kuiper launches on Vulcan, and using the same launch vehicle for our prototype mission gives us a chance to practice payload integration, processing, and mission management procedures ahead of those full-scale commercial launches,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper. “Our prototype satellites will be ready this year, and we look forward to flying with ULA.”