Shanghai signs agreement with China’s megaconstellation group, aims to foster commercial space hub

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HELSINKI — Shanghai local government entered an agreement with the state company responsible for China’s planned broadband megaconstellation Wednesday, while also aiming to foster a space hub to support  reusable rockets and satellite mass production.

Shanghai Party Secretary Li Qiang met with Zhang Dongchen, chairperson of China Satellite Network Group, and Yang Baohua, the group’s general manager, for the signing ceremony of the strategic cooperation framework agreement in the city Feb. 16.

China Satellite Network Group, sometimes abbreviated to “Xingwang” or SatNet, was established in 2021 to oversee a national project to establish a low Earth orbit megaconstellation consisting of around 13,000 satellites.

Shanghai and SatNet agreed to in-depth cooperation and to achieve win-win results in various fields but planned developments were not detailed. The move follows SatNet establishing two companies in the city of Chongqing in southwestern China in December.

The project was noted in China’s plans for the next five years in a recent space “white paper” but no timeline for the deployment of the constellation nor when it could enter service has been published.

A number of Chinese commercial rocket companies are now citing the national “satellite internet” project as opportunities for contracts.

Chinese entities including the CASC, CASIC and CETC earlier announced plans for LEO broadband constellations. These have not been openly discussed by the parties since the emergence of the SatNet-led national megaconstellation, sometimes referred to as Guowang, or national net, suggesting the earlier plans have been superseded.

Hub for reusable rockets, satellite production

Shanghai meanwhile joins a number of Chinese cities seeking to foster commercial space hubs, including Beijing, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Chengdu, Xi’an, Changsha, Guangzhou, Changchun, Ningbo and Wenchang, as well as a cluster around the Yangtze Delta.

Shanghai on Wednesday published its “Implementation Opinions on the City’s Promotion of High-Quality Development of Spatial Information Industry,” to guide development of the space industry across the 14th Five-year Plan period of 2021-2025.

Shanghai’s “Implementation Opinions” propose 12 main tasks, including serving and supporting the overall needs of China in human spaceflight, lunar exploration and other areas, serve the construction of satellite constellations, and participate in cutting-edge scientific research. 

Digital and intelligent manufacturing capabilities, reusable rockets, spacecraft research and development platforms, intelligent satellite software, ground terminals, applications and commercial satellite production and rocket assembly lines are other priorities.

China opened areas of the space sector to private and commercial actors in 2014 and has increased its policy support ever since, with provinces and cities now seeking to attract what are likely to be hundreds of new, high-end space companies to drive local innovation and growth.

Shanghai already plays a major part in China’s space activities, with the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), a major subsidiary of the country’s main space contractor, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).