Amazon to deorbit pair of prototype satellites, calling tests successful

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off carrying Amazon's two prototype relay stations for a space-based internet service it calls Project Kuiper, from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., October 6, 2023. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Amazon will begin a process to discard two prototype satellites it launched to space in 2023, it said on Thursday, following an early test campaign of its Kuiper broadband internet constellation, a planned network of over 3,000 satellites that will compete with SpaceX's Starlink.

The tech giant said the tests of KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 in low-Earth orbit produced a "100% success rate across our key mission objectives, with every major system and subsystem on board performing nominally or better on orbit."

The test satellites will lower their orbital altitudes over the next several months from roughly 475 kilometers (295 miles) above Earth to 217 km, at which point the forces of Earth's atmosphere will naturally drag them into a fiery demise.

That will be a final demonstration for the satellites of how Amazon expects to deorbit future spacecraft within a year of their mission ending, a response to intensifying pressure from U.S. agencies to mitigate space junk as traffic in Earth's shallow orbit soars.

The two spacecraft were launched in October 2023 aboard an Atlas 5 rocket from United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin that will also loft several initial batches of operational Kuiper satellites in the next few years.

At the start of its Kuiper tests last year, Amazon expected its first operational satellites to launch by mid-2024. Now the company expects that debut launch "in the coming months," a spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Josie Kao)

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