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  • Writer's picturePrabhat Phonedekar

A crucial FCC approval for more than 3,000 LEO broadband satellites is received by Amazon.

In 2020, Amazon received initial FCC approval for their Project Kuiper Ka-band network, subject to obtaining regulatory approval for an updated orbital debris mitigation plan. The Federal Communications Commission gave Amazon's proposal to launch and run 3,236 broadband satellites approval on February 8.

Amazon's plan to launch and run 3,236 broadband satellites received approval from the Federal Communications Commission on February 8 with the caveat that there would be precautions taken to prevent collisions in low Earth orbit (LEO).

In 2020, Amazon received initial FCC approval for their Project Kuiper Ka-band network, subject to obtaining regulatory approval for an updated orbital debris mitigation plan.

According to the FCC, by giving this mitigation plan provisional permission, "Kuiper can start deploying its constellation to deliver high-speed broadband access to clients around the world."

These requirements include submitting semi-annual reports to the FCC that describe the collision avoidance manoeuvres made by Kuiper spacecraft, if any have lost the capacity to steer away from objects, and other indicators of debris risk.

The FCC mandates Kuiper to ensure that plans to de-orbit satellites after their seven-year missions take into account both inhabited space stations as well as the International Space Station in the order.

The business claims that decreasing the satellite's perigee to roughly 350 kilometres, where a denser atmosphere would cause drag and cause it to disintegrate from orbit within a year, is part of Kuiper's post-mission disposal plan.

The FCC stated that once perigee lowering is finished, "Kuiper states that remaining propellant will be used to lower apogee and to conduct collision avoidance until the remaining propellant is exhausted, or until the point in which apogee is less than the altitude of the International Space Station," which is at about 400 kilometres.

The remaining propellant would then be used by the satellite to further reduce its apogee and release any remaining propellant.

However, "given the ongoing and persistent operations of inhabitable space stations generally, such as [China's] Tiangong space station, we condition the authorization to require that such space stations be taken into account," the FCC continued.

"Kuiper further states that [it] has allocated sufficient propellant to conduct collision avoidance manoeuvres until the apogee is decreased below 400 kilometres."

"Kuiper must make sure that there is enough propellant available for its satellites to continue maintaining collision avoidance capabilities and employ other remaining fuel to reduce the apogee below any inhabited space stations," this means.

Regular updates on Kuiper's attempts to prevent obstructing astronomical observations and affecting the launch and reentry prospects of missions with constrained launch windows are also required.

The three orbital shells that make up Kuiper's suggested constellation are situated 590, 610, and 630 kilometres above Earth's surface.

After receiving conditional permission to launch up to a quarter of the 30,000 LEO satellites in its second-generation Starlink broadband network, SpaceX received the FCC authorization a few months ago.

With that certification, SpaceX was permitted to launch satellites at distances of 525, 530, and 535 kilometres. The initial generation of Starlink covers about 550 kilometres.

The FCC had rejected SpaceX's request to limit Kuiper's certification to just the 578 satellites in its 630-kilometer orbital shell and postpone a judgement on the other members of the constellation.

Additionally, the FCC rejected a proposal to extend Kuiper's "object years" limit, which was included with Starlink's Gen2 clearance in December.

SpaceX would have to cease launching new satellites while the FCC conducted an investigation if the combined orbital lifetime of any faulty Starlink Gen2 satellites exceeded 100 years.

The FCC claimed that when it placed this requirement on SpaceX, the corporation had previously launched thousands of Starlink satellites and had actual satellite failure data that the regulator could use to influence this monitoring strategy.

The order read, "We find it is not... appropriate to impose such a condition at this time as Kuiper has not started deploying or operating its constellation."

“Once Kuiper begins launching and subsequently operating its constellation, we will reassess the need to add a similar condition at a later date.”

United Launch Alliance is slated to launch Kuiper’s first two prototype satellites in the coming months on its inaugural flights of its Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Amazon has secured up to 92 launches with ULA, Arianespace, and Blue Origin for Kuiper under contracts worth several billion dollars.

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