China plans to launch a massive constellation of satellites called Guowang or Xinhuang, which aims to revolutionize how satellite internet is globally provided. This constellation is expected to directly compete with other similar projects, including Starlink.
China’s Race to Develop its Own Satellite Internet Constellation
As the China-US rivalry was growing, China observed Starlink’s capabilities and developed similar constellations of their own. Fellow Chinese Aerospace conglomerate, Kasich, pursued similar projects in August 2017, announcing a constellation of 156 satellites with individual satellite capacities of 10 gigabits per second. Production lines for satellites were commissioned in Tianjin, aiming for an initial output of 130 satellites per year.
However, after the initial announcement, the aggressive deployment timeline was not met, and the plans seemed to slow down. In 2020, China merged the previous Hong Yun and Hong Yen projects into one Super Constellation called GWA 59, with a total of 12,992 satellites.
China’s top economic regulator flagged satellite internet as critical infrastructure for the country and added it to a list called Cintijen or new infrastructure, composed of core Technologies like 5G, AI, and IoT. In April 2021, China established a new company called the China Satellite Network Group, also known as China Satinine, which would be the operator of this futuristic satellite internet constellation.
The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites (IAMCAS) are understood to be two entities contracted to manufacture satellites for Guowang. The Long March 5B rocket will be equipped with a Yuanzheng-2 second stage for the first time to launch satellites for the LEO satellite network. The earlier launches of the Long March 5B rocket saw the first stages make high-profile, uncontrolled reentries after reaching orbital velocity. Still, the use of the YZ-2 upper stage may allow for the first stage to remain suborbital and land within a targeted drop zone. Several Chinese commercial launch companies have stated their aim to secure contracts to launch satellites for the Guowang project.
Balancing Innovation with Environmental Impact in the Space Race
The race to develop low Earth orbit broadband mega-constellations has become a topic of global competition. However, the multiplication of new constellations raises many concerns such as espionage issues and the growing density of satellites that could contribute to a rapid increase of space debris.
For example, the US has planned to build a satellite constellation to detect hypersonic missiles from Russia and China, while SpaceX continues to expand its constellation with new variants of Starlink. But not only, but Amazon and the EU are also, as well, exploring new options to build their satellite constellation. As space becomes increasingly crowded, countries and companies need to consider the long-term impact on the environment and the risks associated with satellite proliferation.