Alabama-assembled United Launch Alliance rocket powers first Amazon satellites into orbit

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A ULA Atlas V 501 rocket, assembled in Alabama, blasts off Oct. 6 to launch the Protoflight mission for Amazon’s Project Kuiper, a low-Earth-orbit satellite network that will provide fast, affordable internet service to under-resourced communities around the world. (ULA)

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with deep Alabama roots lifted off from Cape Canaveral days ago on a milestone mission that sets the stage for ULA rockets to deploy satellites for an ambitious Amazon broad network.

The Atlas V 501 rocket blasting off last Friday launched the Protoflight mission for Amazon’s Project Kuiper, a low-Earth-orbit satellite network that will provide fast, affordable internet service to under-resourced communities around the world.

ULA’s factory in Decatur played a key role in the successful mission, which delivered two satellites to orbit 311 miles above Earth.

Workers at the Alabama facility handled final assembly of the Atlas V and fabricated its booster, as well as producing the rocket’s Centaur second stage. Partner Beyond Gravity, on the ULA campus, fabricated the 5-meter payload fairing that encased the satellites as the rocket’s nose cone.

“This initial launch is the first step in support of deployment of Amazon’s initiative to provide fast, affordable broadband service to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs.

The Protoflight launch represented the first mission in a broad commercial partnership between ULA and Amazon to launch the majority of the Project Kuiper constellation — and means a lot of activity at the ULA factory in Decatur.

Amazon plans to deploy more than 3,200 Kuiper satellites over more than 80 missions, with ULA rockets booked for more than half of those missions.

ULA’s next-generation Vulcan rocket — also assembled in Decatur — will be the workhorse on the Kuiper missions.

In fact, ULA’s next planned launch is the inaugural Vulcan mission from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

To boost production, both ULA and Beyond Gravity are expanding in Decatur, through projects involving a combined $350 million in new investment and 200 new jobs.

Powering the new Vulcan rocket will be Blue Origin’s BE-4 rockets, produced at the space flight company’s factory in Huntsville.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said these developments point to the growth taking place in the space segment of the state’s aerospace industry.

“Alabama has long been a major player in designing and manufacturing the most innovative, complex solutions to conquer skies and space, and we are continuing to influence the direction of the global industry today,” Canfield said.

“Companies around the world know our workforce has proven itself, time and time again, and that’s why they keep turning to Alabama to help solve the industry’s biggest challenges through groundbreaking work,” he said.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.