After SpaceX launched 60 of its own Starlink broadband satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket in January, becoming the operator of the world’s largest commercial satellite constellation, China has ramped up its plans to launch more satellites to compete with its arch-rival, the US.
Reportedly, SpaceX now has 775 Starlink satellites in comparison to only 432 of China’s satellites in orbit. Beijing has now decided to push this number before the United States and private firms like SpaceX fill the entire lower orbital space, reported Asia Times.
Falcon 9 launches 60 Starlink satellites to orbit – targeting up to 6 Starlink launches this year and will accelerate our cadence next year to put ~720 satellites in orbit for continuous coverage of most populated areas on Earth pic.twitter.com/HF8bCI4JQD
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 24, 2019
Starlink provides satellite internet access which users reported impressive download speeds in snow and high-speed winds on the Reddit Starlink community. In an email sent on October 6, by Starlink to its users of the beta test, it said that the users should expect to see data speeds vary from 50mb/s to 150mb/s through a network of 900 Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX.
SpaceX has also signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the US Army to evaluate the use of Starlink broadband in moving data access within military networks.
According to the Army source, the three-year agreement will “allow the Army to understand potential applications of state-of-the-art advancements in commercial RF SATCOM such as the new Starlink LEO constellation and modern SATCOM terminal developments capable of tracking LEO satellites,” reported Space News.
Beijing, in its five-year space exploration program, plans to launch satellites with the help of state-owned organizations and private players to compete with the US.
The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), a state-owned enterprise, outlined its plans to preliminarily finish the construction of the Xingyun project, an 80-satellite LEO narrowband Internet of Things constellation, by 2025. The group aims to launch 12 Xingyun 2-series satellites in 2021, reported Space News.
CASIC is a sister organization to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) that is the main contractor for China’s civilian and military space program. In April, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) added ‘satellite internet’ as part of “new infrastructures” to boost investment in the sector.
Chinese media reports have also stated China Telecom, a Chinese state-owned telecommunication company, has an ambitious plan to put over 10,000 satellites in the orbit in the next five years.
Citing Ministry of Industry and Information Technology sources, China Newsweek, revealed that Beijing is planning on a state-owned enterprise named China Star Net which will be formed in Shanghai.
However, analysts and policy advisors have objected to Star Net’s need to launch 4G and 5G networks that are already operated by China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom covering major Chinese cities and even low populated areas like Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, said Asia Times.
“Space in the orbit is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis and the onus will be on these latecomers to ensure their satellites will not collide with existing ones,” Xie Tao, CEO of Commsat, a Beijing-based private satellite Internet service provider and a contractor of China Telecom told Chinese media that China should quickly launch its 10,000 satellites so as to gain an advantage over others.
“The low-Earth orbit is becoming increasingly crowded and the space land grab is on. Frequency and bandwidth resources are getting even more scarce as there is a rush by countries and private firms to file applications with the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union for new frequencies,” said Tao.