China’s Satellite Industry Enters World Stage

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Profile: Wang Haibo
President, China Great Wall Corp.

The December contract between China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) of Beijing and the Nigerian National Space Research Development Agency for the in-orbit delivery of a large telecommunications satellite signaled the arrival of China as a full-service commercial-space supplier.

CGWIC President Wang Haibo says that the Nigerian deal, while unique in many respects — it is partly an oil-export arrangement — should be a signal to the world that Chinese companies think their satellite technology can stand up to comparison with what’s offered by the United States, Europe, Japan, India or Russia.

China in the past has sent satellite engineers to Europe for training and has purchased complete satellites and satellite components from U.S. and European suppliers. For Wang, those kinds of arrangements will wind down as China uses its experience to supply its own domestic demand and looks abroad for export possibilities.

China’s family of Long March rockets, after some costly failures in the 1990s, also appears to have matured. The top-of-the-line Long March 3B is capable now of lifting 5,000-kilogram telecommunications spacecraft into geostationary transfer orbit.

Wang, a graduate of the International Space University, says CGWIC is positioning itself as a commercial partner for nations that want a one-stop shop for satellite construction, launch services, ground infrastructure and insurance.

CGWIC acts as prime contractor and customer interface for almost all of China’s space-hardware industry, including the China Academy of Space Technology for satellites, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology and the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology for launch vehicles, and the China Satellite Launch, Tracking and Control Center for China’s three spaceports.

Wang spoke to Space News staff writer Peter B. de Selding about the company’s ambitions.

The Long March launch vehicles are well known, but the satellite-manufacturing side is not. Is this a new capability you want to commercialize?

We were never only launch vehicles, but our satellite side was not so developed. We were not at the level of the international standard. Now we are ready to compete internationally in satellites as well, because Chinese technology has become good enough.

How does CGWIC fit within the Chinese space industry?

We do the international marketing and sales for all Chinese space products, and we import as well as export.

What is your current satellite product intended for the export market?

We have our own DFH-4 platform, which provides 10 kilowatts of power at the satellite’s end of life, and has a launch weight of up to 5,100 kilograms. Almost all of the technology we use on this satellite is derived from the DFH-3. More than seven DFH-3 satellites are currently operating.

For Nigeria, it is a DFH-4 platform?

Yes, and it will be our second DFH-4, after the Sinosat-2 satellite planned for launch in 2006.

The Nigerian space office says the total contract is valued at more than $300 million, which seems like a |lot for a single satellite and launch.

You can always argue about what to include when you evaluate a contract’s size — how much of the ground segment, whether insurance is factored in and so forth. The figure we use for this contract is $250 million including the satellite, its launch, insurance and the ground infrastructure. The ground segment in this case is fairly extensive.

Did you feel you were competing with others for the Nigerian satellite work?

There was lots of competition, and since Telesat Canada evaluated the bids, we think we can use this contract as an example for other countries. Our philosophy is to create win-win situations with our customers. We think other nations in Africa and South America could be interested by this model. This contract is our first move into in-orbit delivery contracts.

On the launcher side, you have been limited mostly to your domestic market because of the U.S. ban on the use of Chinese rockets for satellites with U.S. parts. How has that been for the company?

This has been difficult for us. But since mid-1996 we have conducted 42 consecutive successful launches. Our launch in April of the Apstar 6 satellite [built by Alcatel Space of France for APT Satellite Holdings of Hong Kong and weighing 4,600 kilograms] was performed with a very high accuracy.