HELSINKI — The Shanghai government has expressed backing for a broadband megaconstellation consisting of an initial 1,296 satellites.

A Shanghai Municipal People’s Government press conference July 25 announced that a project known as “G60 Starlink” now envisions building a constellation of potentially more than 12,000 satellites. A first phase will see 1,296 satellites sent in orbit.

The “G60 Starlink” broadband constellation is a separate project to China’s “Guowang” national satellite internet plan, commonly thought of as China’s answer to SpaceX’s Starlink.

China’s government set up a state-owned enterprise in 2021 to oversee and coordinate the construction of the 13,000-satellite Guowang.  

G60 Starlink was previously geared towards developing an internet satellite cluster without an overt constellation plan. The project is centered in Shanghai’s Songjiang District and appears to offer an alternative to the national level Guowang plan.

The G60 Starlink development has been quietly ongoing since 2016, and announced its cluster plans in 2021. G60 refers to an expressway of the same name which runs through several cities in the Yangtze River Delta region. The project is part of a Science and Technology Innovation Valley initiative. 

A key first development phase of the project includes a satellite manufacturing center capable of producing 300 satellites per year. The facility is expected to enter service during 2023. It was also stated to lower the cost of a single satellite by 35 percent, though without specifying a reference point.

A tweet by the account Megaconstellations suggests a request for coordination filed with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in April could correspond to the G60 Starlink plan.

The documentation sets out plans for 36 polar orbital planes, each filled with 36 satellites, totaling 1,296 spacecraft. The satellites would operate in the Ku, Q and V bands.

Both Guowang and G60 Starlink have both so far been opaque endeavors. If and how these two projects will be regulated, coordinated and, in the latter case, approved at the national level, is unknown to the outside.

As noted by a recent post on SpaceRef, which delves into the possible intricacies of the situation, notes that the initiative is linked to the Chinese shareholders of the former KLEO Connect constellation project. That Chinese-European joint venture ended in acrimony and ongoing lawsuits. 

U.S. technology firm Rivada is planning to use the allocated frequencies for its own constellation after it acquired spectrum rights from Kleo’s majority Chinese shareholders. That move was enacted through separately buying a majority of Trion Space, a Liechtenstein shell company that controlled the filings. These were reassigned to Rivada from Trion earlier this year by the Liechtenstein regulator, a move confirmed by the ITU in June. This is however being disputed by KLEO’s Chinese shareholders and is being challenged.

The July 25 report from the press conference by Shanghai Securities News says that experimental satellites have been launched and successfully networked. These likely refer to satellites earlier launched by KLEO Connect. Reports from the presser contained few details and did not outline a timeline for launching the G60 satellites.

G60 Starlinks is also planning a tracking and control center for its project. The new satellite center also adds to a boom in Chinese small satellite capacity. These include facilities belonging to the state-owned China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., and Innovation Academy for Microsatellites (IAMCAS) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Other entities with large, small satellite manufacturing centers include GalaxySpace and HKATG in Hong Kong.

CAST and IAMCAS are understood to be involved in Guowang, while CASIC has its own commercial projects, namely the separate VLEO and Xingyun Internet of Things constellations. GalaxySpace launched its first stackable, flat-panel communications satellite July 27.

The first batch of satellites for Guowang is expected to launch later this year, possibly on a Long March 5B rocket with a Yuanzheng-2 upper stage. China is also building new commercial launch pads on Hainan island to alleviate a bottleneck in access to launch.

Article edited Aug. 17 to note that relevant spectrum filings are controlled by Rivada.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...