Project Kuiper Protoflight | Atlas V 501

Lift Off Time
October 6, 2023 – 18:06 UTC | 14:06 EDT
Mission Name
Project Kuiper Protoflight
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
United Launch Alliance (ULA)
(Who will pay for this?)
Kuiper Systems LLC, also known as Project Kuiper (a subsidiary of Amazon)
Atlas V 501
Launch Location
Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41)
Payload mass
Not specified, up to 8,123 kg (17,908 lb)
Where will the satellites go?
Low-Earth orbit
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No, this is not a capability of the Atlas V rocket
Where will the first stage land?
It will crash into the Atlantic Ocean
Are these fairings new?
This is the:
– 2nd launch of the Atlas V rocket in 2023 
– 3rd mission for ULA in 2023
– 99th overall Atlas V mission 
– 158th overall ULA mission

– 1st launch of an Atlas V 501 since 2020
– 161st orbital launch attempt of 2023
Where to watch
If available, an official livestream will be listed here

What’s All This Mean?

United Launch Alliance is preparing for the first launch of Project Kuiper’s mega satellite constellation. This launch will take two prototype satellites to orbit. Launch will take place at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, United States from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41).

What Is Project Kuiper?

Project Kuiper is an initiative from Amazon with a planned satellite internet constellation of 3,276 satellites, which will operate in low Earth orbit. Project Kuiper’s mission is “to bring fast, affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world.” 

This first mission is a test that will see two prototype satellites, “KuiperSat-1” and “KuiperSat-2”, placed in low-Earth orbit. After this test, the following 3,276 satellites will be placed in 98 orbital planes in three orbital layers of 590 km, 610 km, and 630 km altitude. The satellites will be deployed in five phases. The constellation will become operational and provide broadband internet access once the first 578 satellites have been launched. 

The constellation is managed by Kuiper Systems LLC, an Amazon subsidiary. While this first launch is being conducted by ULA, Project Kuiper has secured 77 heavy-lift launches from not only ULA but also Arianespace and Blue Origin.

The satellite constellation takes its name from the Kuiper Belt, a circumstellar disk in the outer Solar System. The Kuiper Belt is similar to an asteroid belt as it primarily consists of small planetary bodies and remnants from the solar system’s formation; however, it is much larger. The Kuiper Belt also contains several dwarf planets: Orcus, Pluto, Haumea, Quaoar, and Makemake. 

The Kuiper payload being placed atop the Atlas V (Credit: United Launch Alliance)

What Is The Atlas V?

The Atlas V is an expendable medium lift launch system and member of the Atlas rocket family. The rocket has two stages. The first is a Common Core Booster (CCB), which is powered by an RD-180 engine and burns kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOx). This is accompanied by up to five strap-on solid rocket boosters. The second stage is the Centaur upper stage, which is powered by one or two RL10 engines and burns liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOx).

In the 501 configuration, the Atlas V is capable of carrying up to 8,123 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO) and up to 3,775 kg to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). There have been 7 previous launches of the Atlas V 501 to date.

What Does 501 Mean?

Atlas V rockets have a three-number configuration code. The first number represents the fairing diameter size in meters, so in this instance, there is a 5-meter fairing. The second number denotes the number of solid rocket boosters (SRBs), which attach to the base of the rocket. The number of SRBs for a 5-meter fairing can range from 0 – 5. In this case, there will be no SRBs attached to the center core. The third number shows the number of engines on the Centaur Upper Stage, which is one in this configuration. So this means that this rocket will have a 5-meter fairing, no solid rocket boosters, and one engine on the Centaur Upper Stage.

rocket white srb atlas v fairing fuel engine
A diagram of the entire Atlas V family with the SRB placement for each number shown. (Credit: NASA)

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