Amazon’s Starlink competitor, Project Kuiper, had been aiming to launch its first prototype satellites into space this summer, but it looks like the company is facing another delay.
The issue concerns the Vulcan Centaur, a new rocket from Amazon’s partner on the project, United Launch Alliance. Last week, ULA reportedly Announced(Opens in a new window) had to push back the rocket’s launch to late 2023 after Centaur experienced an explosion during a test in March. That’s bad news for Amazon because the company wanted to include its first two Project Kuiper prototype satellites aboard the new rocket’s initial launch.
Amazon originally expected a Q4 2022 launch, but in October, it delayed the launch to Q1 2023 amid ULA’s troubles getting Centaur off the ground.
(Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Amazon today declined to offer an update on Project Kuiper, which aims to serve its first customers by the end of 2024. A company spokesperson only confirmed that ULA is targeting Q4 for the first launch at Vulcan Centaur.
There is a risk that the development of Project Kuiper, a satellite internet system that can provide high-speed broadband to users on the ground, will be stopped. The company has received an FCC license to operate over 3,000 satellites to power the network. But before Amazon can finalize the satellite hardware, it must first ship the two prototypes.
“The point of the test satellites is to validate the design before mass production begins,” Tim Farrar, a consultant in the satellite communications industry, write(Opens in a new window) on Twitter.
The other issue is that Amazon’s FCC license to operate Project Kuiper requires the company to operate half of the planned constellation of 3,236 satellites by July 30, 2026. Otherwise, Amazon risks losing the license. The continued delays with Centaur mean Amazon may have to extend the deadline, Farrer tells PCMag.
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“Kuiper cannot pretend they are going to meet the FCC’s July 2026 deadline and be prepared to wait indefinitely for the test satellites to be launched,” he tweeted.
ULA did not respond to a request for comment. But on Twitter, Farrar said(Opens in a new window) ULA may be scheduling a replacement launch for the Project Kuiper prototype satellites using its older Atlas V rockets. So we will have to wait and see.
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