Project Kuiper satellite render

Amazon Receives FCC Approval for Project Kuiper Constellation

Amazon Receives FCC Approval for Project Kuiper Constellation

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Joseph S.

Joseph S.

Thu Feb 09 2023Written by Joseph S.

Amazon’s Project Kuiper was approved by the FCC on February 8th to launch and operate over 3200 Ka-band LEO broadband satellites that aim to provide high-speed low-latency connections to people around the world. This follows the FCC’s initial clearance of the constellation in 2020 on the condition that Amazon would provide a thorough orbital debris mitigation strategy and secure regulatory approval.

In its most recent conditional permission, the FCC requires that Kuiper provide detailed reports on the company’s efforts to mitigate debris and collisions in LEO, including any avoidance maneuvers that the satellites make, and the number of “dead” satellites that are unable to maneuver in space. These reports will be required semi-annually. Other conditions for Kuiper’s approval include regular reports on the constellation’s effect on astronomy and the impacts of satellite reentry.

The proposed constellation that the FCC approved spans across 3 orbital shells of 590 km, 610 km, and 630 km. This is slightly higher than SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, which currently operate between ~535 km and~ 570 km. The FCC requires Kuiper to make sure that plans are in place for deorbiting satellites after their 7 year mission has ended in order to limit orbital debris and have minimal effect on space stations like the ISS.

The FCC also denied a request to impose the same “object years” requirement on Kuiper as it did for SpaceX’s Starlink Gen 2 system it approved in December 2022. This requirement means that if the total lifetime in orbit of all the defunct, dead, or inoperable Starlink satellites in the Gen 2 Starlink constellation exceeds 100 years, SpaceX must stop launching satellites until the FCC has completed a formal investigation. The FCC justified their decision to not impose this obligation on Kuiper because they have yet to start deployment, and it is therefore unnecessary to impose such a requirement until satellites have been launched and the constellation begins operation.

Amazon will launch its Kuiper satellites on ULA, Blue origin, and Arianespace rockets. Credit: Arianespace/Blue Origin/ULA

Amazon is gearing up to start launching its Kuiper satellites later this year, with the first 2 test satellites scheduled to launch on the inaugural flight of ULA’s Vulcan rocket as soon as next month. Following this, ULA’s Atlas V rocket is on tap to launch 9 batches of Kuiper satellites. Amazon has also procured a total of 93 launches for its constellation from ULA, Blue Origin, and Arianespace. This will hopefully allow the company to launch half of its 3236 satellite constellation by the FCC's deadline of July 30th, 2026.