United Launch Alliance says the first prototype satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband network have been placed atop their Atlas V rocket, with launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida set for Oct. 6.
The launch window will open on that day at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT), ULA said today in an online update.
Liftoff will mark a milestone for Project Kuiper, which aims to put more than 3,200 satellites into orbit to provide broadband internet access to millions of people around the world who are currently underserved. Kuiper is seen as a competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, which already has more than 2 million subscribers.
The satellites for both those networks are built in the Seattle area: SpaceX’s satellite development and manufacturing facility is in Redmond, Wash., where Amazon’s Project Kuiper is also headquartered. Amazon is readying a 172,000-square-foot facility in nearby Kirkland to start turning out production models of its satellite by the end of the year.
Project Kuiper’s two prototypes — Kuipersat 1 and 2 — are meant to test the hardware and system operations in advance of the expected production ramp-up. They had originally been slated to launch on ULA’s next-generation Vulcan rocket, but the payload was switched to ULA’s workhorse Atlas V after the Vulcan development program encountered a series of delays.
The Atlas 501 variant that’s due to be used for next week’s launch is capable of putting nearly 18,000 pounds of payload into low Earth orbit. That’s far more power than what’s required to loft two Kuiper satellites, which are thought to weigh somewhere around 1,300 to 1,540 pounds each.
Amazon’s license from the Federal Communications Commission calls for launching half of the 3,236 satellites for the Kuiper constellation by mid-2026 — which suggests the launch schedule will be tight. Schedule considerations are likely to have figured into this summer’s decision to switch from Vulcan to the Atlas V.
Amazon has contracted with ULA, Arianespace and Blue Origin (which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos) to conduct up to 77 launches for satellite deployment. Most of those launches would use next-generation rockets that haven’t yet flown: ULA’s Vulcan, Arianespace’s Ariane 6 and Blue Origin’s New Glenn. Nine launches are set to use the Atlas V, and next week’s scheduled launch counts as one of the nine.