Since 2019, Elon Musk and SpaceX have led the charge to build broadband satellite internet services. As of May 2023, the Starlink constellation consisted of more than 4,000 satellites operating in low Earth orbit (LEO) and approximately 1.5 million subscribers worldwide. Several competitors began launching constellations years before Starlink began, and several companies have since emerged. This includes HughesNet, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper Systems. But Starlink’s latest challenger may be the most formidable yet: a company in China backed by the Beijing government!
On Sunday, July 9, a prototype Internet satellite was launched aboard a Long March 2C carrier rocket from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. The satellite has since entered a predetermined orbit, where it will conduct several tests to validate broadband satellite technology. The project’s long-term goal is to create a constellation of 13,000 satellites codenamed “Guo Wang,” which loosely translates to “state network” in Mandarin, reflecting Beijing’s vision of a state-run share of the satellite Internet market.
This project was created by China’s State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), which oversees China’s largest state-owned enterprises and is led by the Chinese company SatNet. According to documents filed with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the company intends to create two constellations (GW-A59 and GW-2) with coverage from 37.5 to 42.5 GHz (space-Earth) and from 47, 2 at 51.4 GHz (Earth-space). According to multiple sources, this constellation is part of a larger effort by China to reclaim its claim on the growing satellite Internet market.
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According to a report by Grand View Research, Inc., the satellite Internet market was valued at $8.23 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $22.57 billion by 2030, a compound annual growth rate ( CAGR) of 13.6%. The number of satellite Internet users worldwide increased from 43 million in 2020 (about 1% of global Internet users) and is expected to grow to 110 million by the end of the decade (about 1.4% of global global users). Despite their success, Starlink’s market share is only around 3.5%, and future growth is expected to be led by developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere.
The Chinese government opened the satellite Internet market to private investment in 2014, and around two dozen projects have since been launched. This includes GalaxySpace, the first developer of satellite Internet in China, with funding from venture capital firms and the partly government-led China International Capital Corporation (CICC) worth $1.5 billion a year last. A similar trend is happening around the world, where governments are providing significant funding to satellite Internet companies to provide broadband services for underserved markets.
China has engaged in several ambitious programs in recent years. This includes the creation of an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in the South Pole-Aitken Basin that rivals the Artemis program. There’s also China’s secret space plane, a competitor to the US Space Force’s X-37B, which returned to Earth a few months ago after spending 276 days in orbit. There’s also how they’ve established landing platforms at sea, started developing the Long March-9 super-heavy rocket, and proposed sending manned missions to Mars, starting in 2033 (like NASA).
And as recent developments suggest, China also wants to make its presence felt in the commercial space sector. In addition to satellite internet services, they are also working on reusable rockets and have made suggestions on reusable rockets similar to Starship and Super Heavy. In keeping with China’s modus operandi, the process appears to be state-led, with private industry meeting the mandates and targets set by the government.
Further reading: CGTN
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