FCC greenlights Project Kuiper after setting orbital debris requirements

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted Amazon’s satellite company Kuiper permission to deploy its low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite constellation, providing broadband service using Ka-band radio frequencies.

The FCC’S grant comes after it approved Kuiper’s updated orbital debris mitigation plan.

The agency in 2020 had granted Amazon's Project Kuiper permission to deploy 3,236 satellites aimed at closing the digital divide. But the project has been delayed due to concerns about its orbital debris. This week the FCC said it is requiring Kuiper to comply with a series of orbital debris conditions.

“Our action will allow Kuiper to begin deployment of its constellation in order to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to customers around the world,” stated the FCC in its order.

Kuiper is scheduled to launch its first prototype satellites in the first half of this year.

One reason the FCC delayed Kuiper’s launch plans was that its competitors such as SpaceX and Viasat, among other stakeholders, complained that Kuiper’s debris mitigation plans were too vague.

SpaceX has developed clearly-defined technical procedures for de-orbiting its LEO satellites at the end of their lives. Once the satellites de-orbit, they pass through the earth’s atmosphere and burn up. 

And Hughes Net recently told Fierce that the procedures for de-orbiting it geosynchronous orbit (GEO) satellites are different. First, there are far fewer of them. Once they reach the end of their life, they move out of their operating orbit and drift further out into space.

Kuiper requirements

In its order this week, the FCC said Kuiper will remove satellites in its system from orbit at the end of their seven-year mission by lowering the perigee of the satellite to approximately 350 kilometers where the denser atmosphere will result in drag that causes the satellites to decay from orbit within one year. There are a lot of technical commitments related to having enough propellant to avoid collisions with other satellite during this process.