Amazon started Project Kuiper with a goal of providing fast, affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world. Within 30 days of sending two prototype satellites into space, Project Kuiper has achieved a 100% success rate for its Protoflight mission, validating key technologies that underpin the network and moving the program another step closer toward that long-term vision.
Every major system and subsystem on board the two prototypes—from flight computers and solar arrays to our propulsion system and advanced radio frequency (RF) communications payload—demonstrated nominal or better performance following launch. Together, these tests have allowed the team to validate the architecture and design of our satellite constellation and to conduct demonstrations of 4K video streaming and two-way video calls over the network. With initial testing complete, Project Kuiper is on track to begin mass satellite production ahead of a full-scale deployment starting in the first half of 2024, before entering beta testing with select customers later in the year.
“Kuiper was an idea on a piece of paper a few years ago, and everything we’ve learned so far from our Protoflight mission validates our original vision and architecture,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper. “We still have a lot of hard work ahead, and scaling for mass production won’t be easy. To get these results on your very first mission though—and so quickly after launch—is an incredible feat, and it’s only possible because of the expertise and dedication of our team here at Amazon.”
Validating key systems and subsystems
Project Kuiper is Amazon’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband network. We designed every key component in the system to deliver the fastest, most reliable, and most affordable service for customers, and our Protoflight mission has allowed us to test the full range of hardware, software, and infrastructure that underpin our network. This includes the key systems and subsystems that allow our satellites to operate safely and reliably in space—satellite structures and mechanics, flight computers, propulsion systems, solar power generation and distribution systems, batteries, reaction wheels, and more—as well as the advanced RF communications payload we use to send and receive data through the Kuiper network. The mission has also allowed us to validate technology and infrastructure on the ground, including prototypes of our customer terminal; telemetry, tracking and control (TT&C) stations located in places like Hawaii and Mauritius; our ground gateway station in Texas; and connection points to the terrestrial internet via Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Testing connectivity through space
The most recent Protoflight tests involved the RF communications payload, which includes a combination of parabolic antennas, phased array antennas, and additional innovations that allow us to send customer data traffic across the network. This was the last major satellite system we set out to prove in space, and through a series of experiments during the week of November 5, we successfully demonstrated end-to-end network functionality. We sent data traffic in both directions from the internet over an AWS fiber-optic connection to our ground gateway station, up to our satellites, and then down to a customer terminal at our test location.
We designed the tests to showcase different performance characteristics of the Project Kuiper network, on top of the basic functions of transmitting and receiving data. In the first demonstration, we logged into an Amazon Prime account, searched for a product, added it to the cart, and then checked out. In the second demonstration, we logged into Prime Video, searched for the Amazon Original movie A Million Miles Away, and then streamed it as ultra-high definition (UHD) 4K video. This test highlighted network throughput and low latency. In the third demonstration, we conducted a two-way video call over Amazon Chime between our test site in Texas and our mission operations center in Washington. In addition to requiring low latency for a smooth video call, this test involved “full duplex” performance, with our antennas simultaneously sending and receiving data.
The demonstrations took place during brief contact windows each day as our prototype satellites’ elliptical orbits took them over the test site, and we successfully established a link to receive internet connectivity. Each contact window ranged from approximately 30-120 seconds based on the satellites’ position relative to the test site. That experience was unique to the Protoflight mission because we only have two satellites in orbit. When we begin offering commercial service, there will always be a satellite within range of our customers, and our software-defined network will seamlessly hand off the data link from one satellite to the next as they pass overhead so our customers will enjoy uninterrupted connectivity.
Preparing to serve a wide range of customers
The mission also gave our teams on the ground a chance to demonstrate and refine procedures for satellite processing, launch, and mission operations—critical experiences as we prepare for a rapid launch cadence beginning in 2024. Although we’ve already validated the core satellite and network design, we will continue running experiments over the next several months under different conditions and observe how our prototype satellites hold up to the extremes of space.
Once deployed, Project Kuiper will provide fast, affordable connectivity to tens of millions of customers around the world. Our network will serve a wide range of customers—from individual households and businesses in unserved and underserved communities to large enterprises and government agencies operating all over the world. To deliver on this vision, Amazon and its partners are innovating and investing in the infrastructure needed to rapidly scale Project Kuiper operations and services.
When we begin beta testing in the second half of next year, early partners like Vodafone and Verizon will be among the first to participate in those service pilots. Additional enterprise, telecommunications, and government customers and partners seeking to take part in our pilot program can register interest through early 2024.