On the heels of SpaceX’s successful launch of Starlink test satellites Tintin A and Tintin B, China has announced that it is also preparing to launch the first satellite of its own global internet constellation project later this year. Unlike Elon Musk’s idea of using 12,000 interlinked satellites to provide internet coverage to consumers on the surface, however, China’s space-bound internet system is a bit more conservative in number, with only 300 satellites set to be launched into low Earth orbit.
The first satellites of China’s space-bound internet system are set to be built and designed by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC), one of the Asian economic superpower’s largest state-owned missile and spacecraft firms. In a statement to China’s Science and Technology Daily, CASIC President Zhang Zhongyang stated that engineers are now hard at work in assembling and refining the first satellite for the country’s space-bound constellation. Zhang further credited SpaceX’s recent efforts at establishing its Starlink system as inspiration for China’s planned global internet system, stating that the Elon Musk-led firm’s “spirit of challenge is worth learning.”
China’s planned space-based internet system is designed not only for use by consumers; it is also designed for use by enterprises and government agencies. As noted in an Asia Times report, the country’s global internet network, apart from providing internet access to consumers in far-flung areas of the region, also aims to help China’s drones transmit images and videos in real-time with low latency. The satellite Wi-Fi system is also expected to provide a fast, stable internet connection for the country’s self-driving cars and Internet of Things devices.
China’s planned internet constellation is expected to be rolled out in two stages, with the first stage involving the launch of 54 satellites into low Earth orbit. Once the first 54 are deployed, the rest of the 300 satellites that are planned for the system will be launched at a gradual pace within the next few years.
As we covered in a previous report, SpaceX recently launched Starlink’s first two test satellites using a flight-tested Falcon 9 rocket carrying Spain’s PAZ radar-imaging satellite. The launch marked SpaceX’s fourth successful deployment this year, with the two Starlink test satellites communicating with Earth relay stations when they reached orbit. Despite the successful mission, however, SpaceX was quick to temper down expectations for its global internet system, stating that much work still needs to be done.
“Even if these satellites work as planned, we still have considerable technical work ahead of us to design and deploy a low Earth orbit satellite constellation. If successful, [this system] would provide people in low to moderate population densities around the world with affordable, high-speed internet access, including many that have never had internet access before.”