The banner of Kuiper Systems LLC, showing the orbits of the satellites

Project Kuiper: Amazon’s New Bet On Satellite Internet

Amazon is launching its own constellation to serve remote places. Project Kuiper is already launching satellites and has ambitious plans for the future

Low-latency satellite internet is no longer a novel concept. It is a valuable tool to provide wide-band connectivity to areas otherwise served poorly, or not at all. Right now, a new player is entering the field: Kuiper. The Amazon subsidiary aims to launch 3236 satellites and provide affordable and fast broadband service.


Kuiper Systems LLC was founded in 2019. By the following year, it obtained permission from the Federal Communications Commission to launch its constellation of communication satellites. The terms of the license require the launch of half the satellites by mid-2026, and the rest by mid-2029.

In December 2020 Kuiper unveiled the first prototype of its customer terminal. It consisted of a phased array antenna 30 cm in diameter. Phased array antennas use a large number of small receivers/transmitters to send or receive a beam of radio waves that can be focused electronically. This is ideal for tracking satellites moving across the sky without moving parts.

The three types of customer terminals that Kuiper will offer. Credits: Amazon
The three types of customer terminals that Amazon will offer. Credits: Amazon

The prototype achieved speeds of up to 400 Mbps during trials. Since then the design has been iterated, and the current plan is to offer three versions of the terminal. They will be capable of 100 Mbps, 400 Mbps, and 1 Gbps. The receivers will range in size from 18 cm to 75 cm.

Between 2021 and 2022, Kuiper began securing contracts with commercial launch providers. Rockets chosen included ULA’s Atlas V and Vulcan Centaur, Arianespace’s Ariane 6, and Blue Origin’s New Glenn. While Kuiper, Amazon, and Blue Origin have all been founded by Jeff Bezos, the first two are not related to Blue Origin. Elon Musk’s SpaceX was eventually included in the launch manifest, despite the rivalry between the founders.



Two prototype satellites are in orbit right now: KuiperSat-1 and 2. The launch took place on October 6, 2023, on a ULA Atlas V rocket. The two satellites tested their connectivity capabilities by supporting the streaming of 4K video and two-way video calls. The two satellites also successfully tested laser communication between each other. Using an infrared laser, the two satellites exchanged data with speeds of up to 100 Gbps. Relaying data between satellites will enable service even to places far away from a ground station, such as in the middle of the ocean. The two satellites also tested their propulsion systems.

The Atlas V fairings that encapsulate the first two Kuiper satellites, in preparation of launch. Credits: Amazon
The Atlas V fairings for the first two Kuiper satellites, in preparation for launch. Credits: Amazon

Kuiper hasn’t disclosed many details about the satellites. Obviously, each one will be equipped with communication equipment to connect to ground stations and user terminals. The abovementioned laser communication system will be present on every satellite. A krypton Hall-effect electric thruster will enable maneuvering, stationkeeping, and end-of-life deorbiting.

Estimates for the mass of the satellites are around 500 kg due to the use of heavy launchers, but no official number has been made public. The 3236 satellites will orbit in 98 different orbital planes, at altitudes of 590 km, 610 km, and 630 km. The proximity to the surface is essential to provide low-latency internet. 


Launch manifest

We don’t know many exact details about the scheduled launches, either. From the contracts signed so far, we can expect 8 Atlas V, 38 Vulcan Centaur, 18 Ariane 6, 3 Falcon 9, and between 12 and 27 New Glenn. The rockets that allow the customer to choose the number of solid rocket boosters should all fly in their most powerful configurations.

The maiden launch of Vulcan Centaur, which will fly 38 times for Project Kuiper. Credits: United Launch Alliance
The maiden launch of Vulcan Centaur, which will fly 38 times for Project Kuiper. Credits: United Launch Alliance

Many of the rockets chosen are still unflown or, in the case of Vulcan, have only flown once (successfully). Ariane 6 should debut in mid-2024, and New Glenn isn’t expected to launch until the end of 2024. These will be the maiden launches of the rockets, Kuiper launches will come even later. The launches on Falcon 9 will begin in mid-2025.

Amazon plans to begin testing with early customers in late 2024, which probably means launches with Atlas V and Vulcan will have to start soon. According to the terms of the FCC license, half the satellites will have to be launched by mid-2026. This will require a launch cadence of approximately one launch per month.



Project Kuiper is based at a facility in Redmond, Washington, used for research and development. The facility also assembled the first two prototype satellites. The main production facility has been built in Kirkland, again in Washington. It is capable of producing up to four satellites per day. Amazon is also building a satellite integration facility at Kennedy Space Center, due to be completed by the end of 2024. The plant will facilitate the integration of satellites on launch vehicles.

A test of one of the Hall-effect thrusters that will provide propulsion to Kuiper satellites. Credits: Amazon
A test of one of the Hall-effect thrusters that will provide propulsion to Kuiper satellites. Credits: Amazon

Kuiper will also need ground stations to connect the satellites to the rest of the ground-based interned infrastructure, mostly fiber-optic cables. This will be achieved by the ground stations owned by Amazon Web Services, another Amazon subsidiary. These stations were built to allow AWS customers to contact satellites, and now they will also carry Kuiper communications. The current network boasts 12 facilities all over the world.


Supply chains

Several companies involved in the launch process have also announced infrastructure upgrades. ULA has announced the construction of a second Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral, and the procurement of a second rocket transport ship. Aerojet Rocketdyne will increase RL-10 production for the Centaur, and Northrop Grumman will ramp up the production of strap-on boosters. Beyond Gravity (formerly RUAG Space) is building a new facility in Linköping, Sweden, to build the dispensers for the satellites.

Project Kuipers keeps advancing, even if in a rather secretive manner. Many unknowns still lay ahead. While the two test satellites achieved all their objectives, we still lack data on how fast they degrade in the harsh space environment. Kuiper is monitoring them to gather this knowledge over time. Many of the launch vehicles chosen have yet to begin flying. Nonetheless, the company seems very committed to the project.

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Riccardo Dipietro

Riccardo Dipietro

Second-year aerospace engineering student at the Polytechnical School of Turin. Creator and admin of gourmet_space_memes on Instagram

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