As Reports of Space Junk Rise, Amazon Begins Deorbit of Kuiper Satellites

Andreas Rivera
May 31, 2024
Icon Time To Read2 min read

Potential Starlink rival Project Kuiper by Amazon announced on May 23 the success of its satellite internet test mission and its impending end. Project Kuiper initiated the final stage of the mission, the deorbiting of the two prototype satellites launched in October 2023. 

Since launch and activation, Amazon has performed several tests on the Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2 prototype satellites. Those include communication tests and maneuverability tests of their propulsion systems. With vital tests complete, the two low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites’ job is done. As part of Amazon’s orbital debris mitigation plan, they are destined to slowly descend into the earth’s atmosphere to burn up. 

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This process will take several months as Amazon slowly maneuvers the satellites to avoid collisions with other satellites and debris. 

Amazon’s attention to the safe deorbiting of its temporary satellites comes when too much space junk and the real fear of debris hitting the surface are big concerns. 

Both NASA and ESA have reported and warned about the excessive amount of debris in the lower atmosphere, estimating about 11,500 tons of mass in orbit as of 2023.

Starlink’s and Project Kuiper’s satellites were designed to be temporary and small enough to disintegrate in the atmosphere upon reentry. However, there have been multiple recent reports of space junk making landfall dangerously close to people. 

On March 8, a piece of debris shot through the roof of a Naples, Florida, home. NASA confirmed that the 1.6-pound piece of debris was part of a 5,800-pound pallet of used batteries discarded from the International Space Station back in March 2021. There were no injuries. 

Farmers in Saskatchewan, Canada, discovered a suspected piece of debris in one of their fields in April. Then, during Memorial Day weekend, the owners of a mountain resort near Asheville, North Carolina, discovered similar debris on their property. 

Astrophysicist Jonathan C. McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics remarked that both pieces were likely from recent SpaceX launches. As of publication, SpaceX has not commented or confirmed if either of the pieces of debris were from their launches, which occur regularly as it continues to build its constellation of Starlink satellites and shuttle other organizations' payloads. 

As for Project Kuiper, Amazon has ramped up production of its planned 3,200 LEO satellites, opening new manufacturing locations. The enterprise plans to begin beta testing its satellite internet service in the latter half of 2024, with consumer accessibility planned for as early as 2026.

Read more about Project Kuiper here.

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