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China launches first prototype of new low-cost communications constellation

The new colonial movement China today launched the first prototype Hongyun communications satellite.

Developed by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), this is the fist satellite of a vast space-based communications network capable of covering every corner on the Earth, including the Arctic and Antarctica. The satellite mission is to verify low-orbit broadband communication technologies to be used on the Hongyun satellite constellation.

Announced by CASIC in September 2016, the Hongyun project has the goal of building a space-based communications network of 156 communications satellites into low Earth orbit, at an altitude of 160 to 2,000 km. Each satellite of the network will be able to transmit 500 megabytes of data per second. It will become operational in 2022.

These satellites, aimed at lowering cost, appear to be in direct competition with many of the new smallsat constellations being developed in the west by SpaceX, OneWeb, and others.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

36 China
20 SpaceX
14 Russia
11 Europe (Arianespace)

China has widened its lead over the U.S. in the national rankings, 36 to 33, and has likely now clinched that lead for the year. Stay tuned for my annual full report on the state of the launch industry in 2018.

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  • Col Beausabre

    SpaceX scrubbed today’s (12/22/18) launch due to high winds.

  • Andi

    “this is the fist satellite”

    Thought that was a typo in transcription, but it really appears that way in the article. Freudian slip?

  • Edward

    China had aimed to increase its cadence from 20 launches in 2016 and 17 in 2017 to 40 this year ( and ) and SpaceX had hoped to increase its cadence from 18 launches in 2017 to between 30 and 40 in 2018.

    It looks like China has been more successful in ramping up its launch cadence. It isn’t often that a country or company has doubled its launches from year to year, and the only other time a country doubled a double-digit number of launches since 1980 is the U.S. from 1988 to 1989. China has done well, this year.

    Please note that Robert’s concluding remarks in his state of the rocket industry report (linked above) were optimistic:

    Overall, I think the odds are very good that the launch industry will top more than 100 launches in 2018, the first time that will have happened since the fall of the Soviet Union. Unlike then, however, the high numbers won’t be because of a lot of Soviet launches of out-of-date spy satellites, but because of the arrival of a diverse and very competitive international launch/satellite industry. Indeed, the future for space exploration appears very bright at this moment.

    I look forward to Robert’s next state of the industry report. This year saw some dramatic changes, and next year should see the introduction of commercial manned space aspect of the rocket industry. Once there are commercial space stations, in a few years, I expect that the rocket and space transportation industry will expand and broaden.

    What we had expected post-Apollo and later expected from the Space Shuttle is only now beginning to happen, largely due to commercial space and the reduction in size and weight of our standard productive satellites. Government was not interested in doing what the rest of us wanted, but now the rest of us are becoming able to do what we had wanted done in space. An example of a desire that most of us didn’t know about:

    Agriculture customers, for example, may prefer to see changes in the health of crops on graphs instead of false-color imagery created by the Normalized Differential Vegetation Index, an indicator of plant health based on the way plants reflect light in different wavelengths. “Every industry has indicators like this,” Schingler said. “It tells them something is about to happen and it helps them make a better decision.”

    Just as the internet business is now more that just the transport of data and now includes such things as sales of goods and services (e.g. does internet business differently than Oracle or the late Sun Microsystems), the space business is becoming more than the transportation of satellites and the data gathered from those satellites; it now includes data interpretation and data products.

    Planet is introducing data products to individuals, businesses and government agencies around the world who never consumed geospatial data before. “The real opportunity is to deliver insight in a way that helps anyone make a better decision,” Schingler said. “That’s when we will evolve this smaller industry, which is about a $5 billion addressable market, to be part of the business-to-business information services economy, a $100 billion, $200 billion industry. That’s what we’re focused on.”

    Who saw a market for data products from space (more than just the pictures but the data interpretation delivered to us), back in the 1960s? Government’s Landsat satellites didn’t give farmers changes in the health of crops on graphs, it gave us false-color imagery that we had to interpret ourselves; the graphs seem to be preferred. Commercial space is giving us more of what we want in unexpected areas.

    What an exciting time this is for space exploration.

  • Michael G. Gallagher

    China will try to drive all non-Chinese competitors out of the small-sat business by offering ridiculously low pricing. The CCP isn’t just interested in profit, it wants control.

  • Richard M

    “…and has likely now clinched that lead for the year.”

    Oh, it’s definite.

    SpaceX just successfully launched the GPS-III satellite a few minutes ago, so that makes 34 for the U.S.. But the only remaining American launch is the Delta IV Heavy on December 30, assuming it does not get delayed again. So the U.S. will have no more than 35 launches for 2018.

    Still, an impressive achievement, and a sign of the new age of space flight that is now upon us.

  • Andi

    “The CCP isn’t just interested in profit, it wants control.”

    Hence my allusion to the article’s referring to it as their “fist satellite” as a slip rather than a typo.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Michael G. Gallagher,

    The Chinese want control of a lot of things, but the smallsat launch market is pretty far down their list of priorities – assuming it is on their list at all.

    Contrary to much popular opinion, the Chinese are not rolling in dough these days, certainly not to the extent it would make sense to try cornering the smallsat market through subsidizing massively below-cost pricing of smallsat launches.

    And that is what it would take. The Chinese will have no launch vehicle with even present-day-F9-level reusability for at least several more years. The “private” smallsat launch companies that have recently proliferated in China are all relying on solid-fueled vehicles as their 1st-generation offerings.

    Given that all these “firms” seem to be thinly disguised appendages of the PLA, it is unsurprising that they uniformly employ an essentially military technology – solid-fuel rocket motors – in their vehicles. More economical, efficient and relatively inexpensive liquid-fuel successors are all promised, but won’t be in service for years if ever.

    This is all without even considering U.S. law and the reluctance even of non-U.S. players to entrust China with proprietary smallsat tech.

    In short, there is essentially zero probability – to six or eight decimal places – that the Chinese are going to monopolize the smallsat launch market.

    China is going to present enough real problems to the U.S. and the rest of the world over the next two or three decades. There is no point in inventing notional new ones out of whole cloth.

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