China establishes company to build satellite broadband megaconstellation
HELSINKI — The Chinese government has created a company dedicated to creating and operating a 13,000-satellite broadband constellation.
The State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), a government body overseeing state-owned enterprises, issued a press release April 29 announcing the creation of the China Satellite Network Group Co. Ltd.
The move follows comments from senior space industry officials earlier in the year that a company will be formed to oversee a national low Earth orbit broadband constellation.
Spectrum allocation filings submitted to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by China in September last year revealed plans to construct two similarly named “GW” low Earth orbit constellations totaling 12,992 satellites.
The filings indicate plans for GW to consist of sub-constellations ranging from 500-1,145 kilometers in altitude with inclinations between 30-85 degrees. The satellites would operate across a range of frequency bands.
Currently no details have been released on the contractors to be involved in the constellation. Notably the China Satellite Network Group will exist independent from and parallel to China’s main space contractors, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), and the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC).
The apparent independence of China Satellite Network Group from CASC and CASIC indicates that other actors, such as other state-owned enterprises and commercial sector space companies could be involved in the construction of the constellation.
The president of China Spacesat Co., Ltd., a CASC subsidiary, said in April that constellation plans by both CASC and CASIC would “undergo major changes” following the move to create the Guowang constellation.
CASC and CASIC had launched a handful of technology verification satellites for their respective Hongyan and Hongyun constellations. The plans indicated deployment of satellites numbering in the low hundreds.
Other unknowns include the timeline for construction of the constellation, target end-users and how the system will be accessed and marketed. China’s previously announced plans for LEO constellations have stated providing communications for Belt and Road countries and rural areas.
The development is the latest in a line of policy directions and actions to develop a low Earth orbit communications constellation. China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) added “satellite internet” to a list of “new infrastructures” in April 2020.
The recently approved 14th Five-year Plan for the period 2021-2026 and “long-range objectives through 2035” call for an integrated network of communications, Earth observation, and navigation satellites.
China Satellite Network Group is to be based in Xiong’an New Area, a state-level new area in the Baoding area of Hebei, China, created in 2017.
Development of the so-called Guowang constellation will provide domestic employment, anchor space-related industry clusters, and contribute to economic development through serving and enabling domestic connectivity needs, Ian Christensen, director of private sector programs at Secure World Foundation, told SpaceNews in April.
In a related development the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), which oversees areas of the country’s space activities, also issued a notice on promoting the orderly development of small satellites May 19. The document provides a level of guidance to commercial companies and is another step in setting regulations for China’s growing space activities.
The notice touches on areas including frequency use, production, on-orbit safety, launch applications, collision avoidance capabilities and more.
Notably the SASTIND notice states that space debris mitigation plans will be required to be submitted alongside applications for launch licenses. The plan should include theoretical analysis, technical measures, demonstrate meeting requirements for passivation and more.