China’s ‘direct challenge’ to Elon Musk’s Starlink

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China’s Long March 2C rocket carrying seven satellites took off on March 5. Among them, six satellites have been developed by Chinese private company GalaxySpace with the aim of forming an experimental Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband communications network, a move seen as direct competition. with SpaceX’s Starlink.

It was Beijing’s fifth launch of the year, with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) aiming for more than 50 launches in 2022.

“Today’s launch has proven that China has the ability to build a large-scale satellite internet constellation, which includes the ability to mass-produce low-cost satellites as well as operate in a network,” said GalaxySpace co-founder Chang Ming. property of CGTN.

Together with the company’s first satellite which was placed into orbit two years ago, these six satellites will form a test network that is expected to provide uninterrupted broadband communication services for more than 30 minutes at a time.

The six satellites are designated GS-2, GS-AP01, 02 and 03 and GS-2BP01 and 02 and the experimental array has been dubbed “Mini-spider Constellation”. Each satellite has a mass of 190 kilograms and is capable of data speeds of 40 Gbps, according to the company’s claims.

The ground data processing system is developed by Beijing Four Squares Technology, a satellite data analysis company.

GalaxySpace vs. SpaceX

GalaxySpace is a Beijing-based company that manufactures small telecommunications satellites. It was founded in 2016 with the intention of establishing a private constellation of 1,000 LEO satellites that would compete with Space X’s Starlink. The company says its Nantong factory can produce 300 to 500 satellites a year.

In 2020, Xi Xiaofei, the company’s founder and CEO, said its low-cost broadband communications satellites would bridge the gap between China’s and America’s mass-production satellite capabilities “by two years”.

That said, GalaxySpace has a long way to go to catch up with Starlink which already has 2,000 satellites in orbit with plans underway to launch 12,000 more to become the largest satellite internet constellation in the world.

60 Starlink satellites stacked before deployment on May 24, 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, GalaxySpace is setting itself apart by promising to deliver the first constellation that will bring 5G connectivity to consumers, potentially delivering download speeds of over 500 Mbps and at least 80 Mbps in the worst possible weather conditions. Whereas Starlink can only offer 110Mbps speeds for consumer use.

However, even if the company achieves its vision, it still won’t be able to match Starlink’s plans to have 12,000 LEO satellites and so it’s possible GalaxySpace’s planned private constellation will be absorbed as part of the plans. from the Chinese government for the National Broadband Constellation. nicknamed ‘GuoWang’.

Satellite GalaxySpace LEO
A GalaxySpace LEO satellite. (via Twitter)

As Eurasian Times has it reported earlier, GuoWang will be a mega constellation of 13,000 satellites which will be integrated and coordinated by a communication base station in Chongqing.

China’s spectrum allocation filings submitted to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in September last year revealed plans for a LEO constellation of 12,992 satellites with possible sub-constellations ranging from 500 to 1,145 kilometers in altitude with inclinations between 30 and 85 degrees. These will operate on a range of frequency bands.

5G communications

In a related development, China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) has called for the orderly development of small satellites to provide surveillance over a large portion of the Earth. and strengthen internet facilities with the aim of improving 5G and terrestrial communications for rural areas.

In addition, Beijing may extend the coverage of these services to countries covered by its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, thus competing with Space X’s Starlink.

Satellite internet constellations can also enhance a country’s C4ISR capabilities for its armed forces. For example, in the ongoing Ukraine crisis, SpaceX-provided Starlink terminals restored communications to parts of the country where internet or phone connectivity had been cut following the bombardment of Russian troops.

“Starlink was the only non-Russian communications system that was still functioning in parts of Ukraine following the Russian invasion,” says SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

stellar link
A group of Starlink satellites seen from the International Space Station. (File photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Chinese military experts also drew attention to the military potential of satellite internet constellations and highlighted the rift between China and the United States, urging the government to follow the progress of LEO satellite internet from other countries that could be exploited by foreign militaries to have a battlefield. advantage.

Another concern for Chinese analysts is the scarcity of frequency bands and orbital slots for the operation of satellites, which they say are being rapidly acquired by other countries.

A viable LEO satellite internet capability could improve the speed and coverage of Chinese military communications in remote or sparsely populated theaters, especially to support aircraft or ships operating outside the first island chain.

Along the same lines, the United States is racing to establish the next-generation military communications network based on satellite internet capability.

Last month, the US Space Development Agency awarded a $1.8 billion contract for 126 optically interconnected space vehicles (SVs) that should be ready for launch by 2024. These LEO SVs will form the initial tranche of the US National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA).

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