ULA’s Centaur debuts Q1 23 with Amazon Internet Sats • The Register

Private rocket company United Launch Alliance (ULA) will (hopefully) put its Vulcan Centaur spacecraft into orbit for the first time in the first quarter of 2023, carrying two key payloads.

One will be a pair of satellites belonging to Amazon’s planned broadband beaming constellation, Project Kuiper. Amazon plans to build and launch 3,236 satellites at a cost of over $10 billion and has hired ULA, Arianespace and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin to carry out the task. No single launcher can do all the work in time to meet deadlines set by the United States Federal Communications Commission, which dictates that half must be in orbit by mid-2026 and the remainder by July 30, 2029. Amazon hopes to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink. which already has more than 2,000 satellites in orbit.

The second payload is Peregrine – a lunar lander built by private space company Astrobotic Technology, which in turn will carry multiple autonomous minibots to roam over Luna. NASA funded the mission by buying space on the lander and helping develop its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. The mission is to be managed by Astrobotic, but NASA will be very interested as they paid for their space.

As with many things space related, launch is delayed. Amazon previously put Q4 2022 as the date for the first launch in its company diary, but ULA missed that deadline and announced on Wednesday that it is on track for a Q1 2023 test launch.

This was followed by Amazon’s own announcement, which offered “early 2023” as the timeframe for initial launches. “Our first two satellites – Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2 – will be completed later this year,” Amazon said in its announcement. Maybe it would be quicker if they were members of Prime.

ULA has launched over 150 successful missions with its Atlas and Delta rockets, and while nothing is certain in the space caper, its track record suggests that Vulcan Centaur – which offers four configurations capable of lifting between 2,600kg and 12,100kg – has every chance of taking off without incident.

That Amazon and Astrobotic are on board the first Vulcan Centaur launch suggests that both are confident of success.

However, outer space is known to throw up unexpected challenges. Exhibit A may well be NASA’s rescheduled first flight with the Space Launch System (SLS), which is now in the dairy for Monday November 14 after fuel leaks and other frustrations meant a November 29 launch was postponed August was scrubbed. ®

https://www.theregister.com/2022/10/13/vulcan_centaur_kuiper_peregrine/ ULA’s Centaur debuts Q1 23 with Amazon Internet Sats • The Register

Rick Schindler

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