Amazon and Blue Origin’s response to SpaceX’sof broadband satellites is finally slated to get off the ground.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced Wednesday that it will carry two prototype satellites to orbit on the maiden voyage of its new Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle early in 2023.
The mission marries two long-awaited debuts aimed, at least in part, at responding to Elon Musk’s major moves with SpaceX over the past decade, specifically the introduction of the reusable Falcon 9 rocket and Starlink.
Amazon officially unveiled its plans to launch over 3,000 broadband satellites to compete with Starlink in 2019.
ULA has been talking up Vulcan as its next-generation rocket since 2015. Initially the company considered making the vehicle partially reusable, much like the Falcon 9. While CEO Tory Bruno has said reusability could still be part of the evolution of Vulcan, it won’t be seen landing like a Falcon 9 after deploying its payload anytime very soon.
Amazon’s demonstration satellites won’t be the only payload on Vulcan’s first flight. Also on board will be thefrom space startup and former Google Lunar XPrize competitor Astrobotic. After being deployed once in space, Peregrine will make its way to the moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
A payload for Celestis, which provides memorial services in space, will also be hitch a ride on Vulcan.
The commercial mission represents a key step toward ULA receiving certification from the US Space Force to use Vulcan for national security missions, the first of which is tentatively set for the last quarter of 2023.
The Project Kuiper satellites won’t be the only pieces of hardware on the first Vulcan mission with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ fingerprints on it. The vehicle’s first-stage booster is powered by BE-4 engines from Bezos’ own space company, Blue Origin.
Amazon plans to deploy its full broadband constellation in coming years with as many as 92 launches using ULA, Blue Origin and Arianespace rockets.