Amazon's Project Kuiper satellites nail online orders from orbit
Late-stage capitalism ... in spaaace
Amazon is boasting a 100 percent success rate for its Protoflight mission, having demonstrated that a pair of prototype Project Kuiper satellites are capable of streaming video, conducting two-way video calls, and buying stuff on Amazon.
Following a recent successful test of the satellites' thrusters, Amazon confirmed that everything else works as well as or better than expected. This included the flight computers, solar arrays, and the all-important radio frequency (RF) communications payload. The demo paves the way to kick off mass production of the satellites ahead of full-scale deployment starting in the first half of 2024.
Customers should be able to start beta testing the service later in next year.
As well as checking out the satellites, the team was also able to validate prototypes of the Project Kuiper customer terminal and telemetry, tracking, and control (TT&C) stations, its ground gateway station in Texas, and connection points to the terrestrial internet via Amazon Web Services.
Once end-to-end network functionality had been established, the team set about using Project Kuiper. It logged into Amazon Prime Video and streamed the Amazon Original movie A Million Miles Away in 4K, conducted a two-way video call over Amazon Chime between Texas and Washington, and purchased an item from the Amazon.com store.
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A spokesperson told us the item purchased was Air Rocket Racers. It was an obvious choice and a shame that nobody went a little subversive with a purchase of former vulture Ashlee Vance's Elon Musk book. We suppose Jeff would not have approved.
While the streaming, chatting, and purchasing antics via satellite were impressive, The Register asked if any scaling was applied, seeing as Project Kuiper is intended to provide connectivity to tens of millions of customers.
An Amazon spokesperson told The Register that the Protoflight mission was all about real-world testing in space and on the ground.
"Our primary goal for the payload test was to validate that the phased array and parabolic antennas on our satellites can successfully transmit and receive information to and from our ground gateways and customer terminals.
"We'll continue to scale network testing in space and on the ground over the coming months as we prepare to enter beta testing in the second half of 2024."
As a demonstration that the Project Kuiper concept works, the testing has indeed been a success. The team plans to continue running experiments over the next few months to see how well the prototype satellites hold up after an extended period in orbit.
If all continues to go well, the next challenge will be to rapidly build out the constellation. Amazon has secured 77 heavy-lift vehicles over three launch providers. However, one – Blue Origin – has yet to manage more than sub-orbital lobs, while the other two – ULA and Arianespace – are facing delays with their new rockets.
Regarding customers, Amazon claims its standard terminal can deliver speeds up to 400 Mbps and can be produced for less than $400. A compact, portable terminal will reach 100 Mbps, while a larger enterprise device will hit 1 Gbps. ®