July 14, 2024

Project Kuiper, an upcoming satellite internet provider from Amazon, has successfully tested laser communications between its satellites. The announcement marks a major milestone in Amazon’s path to catching up with SpaceX’s Starlink, which already has some 2 million users in over 60 countries.

According to Amazon, the prototype satellites KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 were able to send and receive data at up to 100 Gbps, which is much higher than standard residential internet data transfer speeds. The testing was conducted in November.

It’s the latest big announcement out of the Kuiper team, following tests of the first prototype satellites, which launched on Oct. 6 and confirmed the network’s initial functionality. The system, called an optical intersatellite link, allows satellites to transfer data directly between them, without having to downlink to the ground.

Intersatellite linking enables a satellite constellation to work over areas that don’t have ground stations, from the high seas to the high Arctic. It also helps reduce latency and improve network speed, and it can make data transfer more secure. Amazon claims its laser mesh network will move data some 30% faster than through terrestrial fiber optic cables.

Starlink has been using optical space lasers since 2021 to transfer data at up to 100 Gbps.

A technical achievement for Amazon

While the use of laser links is not new, it is a technical accomplishment. Optical intersatellite links require a strong laser signal and precise tracking to make sure the laser lines up with the other spacecraft—no small feat when spacecraft can be moving at 15,000 miles per hour and be separated by over 1,000 miles.

“With optical inter-satellite links across our satellite constellation, Project Kuiper will effectively operate as a mesh network in space,” said Rajeev Badyal, Project Kuiper’s vice president of technology. “This system is designed fully in-house to optimize for speed, cost, and reliability, and the entire architecture has worked flawlessly from the very start.”

Project Kuiper plans to equip all of its satellites with multiple optical terminals so they can communicate with several satellites simultaneously. It’s aiming for full-scale deployment of the satellites in the first half of 2024 and to begin piloting customer service later in the year.

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