Amazon's Kuiper: Safe and Sustainable Space Operations
Project Kuiper is an initiative by Amazon that aligns with its dedication to creating a sustainable business for its customers, communities, and the world.
Amazon's Project Kuiper, a satellite broadband programme that operates in low Earth orbit, is aimed at offering swift and reasonably priced internet connectivity to millions of customers residing in underprivileged and ignored areas globally.
The network will cater to the needs of households, schools, hospitals, businesses, government agencies, and other organisations that operate in remote and hard-to-reach locations where dependable internet access is lacking.
To accomplish its mission, the company must take measures to safeguard the various environments in which they operate, both on Earth and in space. Since the inception of the Project Kuiper team, they have made space safety and sustainability their primary focus, which has impacted all aspects of their satellite network, including satellite design, operational plans, and constellation architecture.
When the Kuiper System was being designed, the inclusion of active propulsion systems on every satellite in the constellation was considered a crucial decision. This feature provides the team with the ability to control each satellite during every stage of its mission. By utilising this technology instead of relying solely on gravitational forces, the satellites can be actively manoeuvred to maintain distance from other spacecraft and avoid any existing debris in low Earth orbit.
The propulsion system comprises two key components: a hall-effect thruster to propel the satellite and a propulsion tank to contain enough propellant for the mission. The team conducted extensive testing, both internally and in partnership with external entities such as NASA, to verify the safety and reliability of the propulsion tanks.
The upcoming prototype mission will also provide an opportunity to further study and improve the system. During the testing phase, the team fired projectiles to simulate the impact of micrometeoroids and small space debris to minimise debris creation in the event of a small debris impact occurring on-orbit.
A similar approach was taken when designing the rest of the satellite, with a focus on utilising materials that are capable of withstanding potential impacts and ensuring active satellite demise. Additionally, elements such as Whipple shielding were incorporated into the design to protect crucial components like the battery, flight computer, and propellant tank.
Aside from individual satellite design choices, the overall constellation architecture of the Kuiper System also prioritised space safety. The constellation will operate at low altitudes between 590 and 630 kilometres (roughly 367 to 391 miles) above Earth, which enables a quick and reliable deorbit of satellites at the end of their mission.
Each satellite will operate within 9 kilometres of its assigned altitude to minimise potential overlap with other satellites in orbit. The onboard propulsion systems are designed to actively deorbit satellites within a year of their mission ending. In addition, these low altitudes ensure that even in the event of a propulsion system failure, non-operational spacecraft will decay in a timely manner.
Minimising the risk of collision and harmful generation of orbital debris is also dependent on data and information sharing between satellite operators. The Kuiper System will utilise the precise positioning of satellites and synchronised, clockwork-like movements to reduce the chances of collisions. In addition, information will be shared with other operators. The predictable trajectories of Kuiper satellites will enable other spaceflight operators to set and adjust flight paths accordingly.
Amazon has pledged to share ephemeris data and other pertinent operational information with spaceflight operators via portals like Space-Track, which tracks satellites and space probes orbiting Earth. The company will also coordinate with NASA’s Johnson Space Center's Trajectory Optimisation and Planning Office to help eliminate any potential flight hazards to human spaceflight or the International Space Station.
Project Kuiper was designed to operate in conjunction with existing satellite systems. The team is consistently examining and refining its understanding of the orbital environment to enhance orbital debris protection, reduce interference risks, and promote coexistence with other operators. The Net Zero Space Initiative is supported by Project Kuiper in the interest of safe space operations and the long-term sustainability of space, which is critical to a robust and innovative space industry.
With the recent approval of their orbital debris mitigation plan by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Amazon is committed to ensuring safe space operations and the long-term sustainability of space as they begin to launch their Kuiper satellites. For more information on their work in this area, refer to the orbital debris mitigation plan submitted to the FCC.
To find out more about Project Kuiper, please visit their website.
To view and compare company ESG Ratings and Sustainability Reports across sectors, follow our Company ESG Profiles page.