Amazon Picks ULA’s Vulcan for First Two Kuiper Satellites

ULA launch render
Image: Amazon

The e-commerce giant behind Project Kuiper has changed its travel plans for Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2. 

On Wednesday, Amazon said its first two demo satellites will launch on United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket in early 2023. In late 2021, Amazon said it would launch the two demo birds with ABL Space Systems in Q4 of this year. 

  • ABL is targeting a maiden flight of the RS1 rocket, we presume, before the year is out. 
  • ULA, meanwhile, is eyeing a first launch of Vulcan in Q1 2023, the Boeing/Lockheed joint venture said yesterday. 

Kuiper has workhorses aplenty

In April, Amazon announced the largest commercial block buy of rocket rides in history. ULA will provide up to 47 launches to support Kuiper’s deployment. Arianespace is contracted to fly 18 Kuiper missions on Ariane 6, while Blue Origin’s New Glenn will kick in 12 launches (with the option for 15 more). 

  • For ABL, it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later. Amazon will retain two launches with the California rocket unicorn. 
  • “This diverse launch portfolio reduces risk associated with launch vehicle stand-downs, and gives us flexibility to use different rockets to address different needs,” Amazon said Wednesday. 

The bigger picture

While we’re reluctant to deploy “space race” clichés at Payload, indulge us just this once. The season of satellite internet megaconstellations is fully upon us, and Kuiper has ground to make up. 

SpaceX has hoisted 3,400+ Starlink satellites and launched multiple business lines for the service. OneWeb faced deployment hiccups after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but has plans to get back on track and has already launched over two-thirds of its constellation. 

Yes, but…Amazon will tell you it’s not about who gets a full fleet up first. And the company is sinking serious cash—to the tune of $10B—in Kuiper, with 1,000+ Amazonians working on the project. 
+ While we’re here: Kuipersat-1 and -2 are secondary payloads on Vulcan, which will fly Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander as its primary passenger.

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