China’s commercial satellite sector sees boost from ‘new infrastructure’ policy

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HELSINKI — China’s commercial satellite sector is expecting to see a boost after satellite internet was added to a list of “new infrastructures” to receive government support.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) added ‘satellite internet’ to a list of “new infrastructures” in an April meeting (Chinese). The NDRC provided a clearer definition of new infrastructures, with areas including satellite internet, 5G, Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, to be targeted for investment and guidance. 

The move is seen as an attempt to boost innovation in the technology sector and stimulate the Chinese economy.

Following the move, private firm Commsat this week announced it had raised $38 million in series B funding. The round was led by Beijing Wealth Capital and an industry investment fund under AVIC Capital. State-owned aerospace and defense conglomerate AVIC is the major shareholder of the latter.

Beijing Commsat Technology Development Co., Ltd., will use the funding to develop internet satellite platforms and automation production lines. Research and development of broadband communications systems is another priority.

The Chinese satellite industry is expecting to see explosive growth over next 3-5 years thanks to the “new infrastructure” policy, said Xie Tao, Commsat founder and CEO, in a press release (Chinese). Ground terminal and application markets are set to take off, Xie added.

Commsat was founded in 2015 and launched eight satellites in 2018. Last year the company earned revenues of nearly 100 million yuan ($14 million), according to the press release.

Satellite sector activities

A flurry of activity in China’s commercial satellite sector has taken place in recent weeks. 

In April Beijing-based private satellite company MinoSpace secured tens of millions of yuan of A round funding from CITIC Construction Co., Ltd., (Chinese). The new funding came just two months after raising nearly 100 million yuan ($14.2 million) to develop larger satellite platforms.

China Unicom, a major telecom operator, also entered the satellite internet arena with involvement in UnicomAirNet, a mixed-ownership satellite telecommunications company.

Beijing SpaceArk Technology Corp. Ltd., or ‘Space Ark’, unveiled its Ark 2 (Spark-02) technology verification satellite this week (Chinese). Launch of the satellite is expected late June and is intended to be a step toward small, commercial retrievable satellites. 

Results from PolarLight, a science payload aboard the Tongchuan-1 CubeSat, launched October 2018 and developed by private satellite maker Spacety, were published in Nature this week. The payload used a novel technique to detect soft X-ray polarization in the Crab nebula. 

Automotive and tech giant Zhejiang Geely Holding Group announced in March it was investing $326 million in a satellite manufacturing and testing facility. The first two ‘Geespace’ satellites will undergo final validation testing in June.

Shanghai Institute of Satellite Engineering (SISE), a subsidiary of the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) under CASC, the state-owned main contractor for China’s space programs, this week announced that satellite platforms with masses of 50, 100 and 300 kilograms can now be purchased online.

Wuhan-based launch provider back in action

Expace, a nominally private launch service provider, launched a pair of satellites for an Internet of Things constellation from Jiuquan late Monday Eastern time. 

A solid Kuaizhou-1A rocket launched a pair of 93-kilogram Xingyun-2 (01, 02) satellites into 557 x 573-kilometer orbits. The pair are to be the first two operational satellites for the 80-satellite narrowband Xingyun constellation. They will also test optical inter-satellite communication links. Expace was established in 2016 as a spinoff from CASIC, a giant state-owned defense contractor and missile maker.

A military-civil fusion national strategy is supporting and facilitating China’s commercial space activities. The aim is to foster innovation in military and civilian realms but also develop new supply chains and lower costs. 

A number of Chinese space sector firms, led by CASC and CASIC, have also formed an Internet of Things industry alliance. The aim is to create an ecosystem, supply and value chains, and provide support for members.

LaserFleet, a spin-off from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and member of the alliance, developed the main payload for the two Xingyun satellites.

The mission marked a return to action for Wuhan-based firm Expace. This follows the lifting of measurements to limit the spread of COVID-19.

It was the tenth Chinese mission of the year overall, including two failures.