China creates company to build mega-satellite constellation

The new colonial movement: Late last month China officially created a company to build its own mega-satellite constellation, consisting of 13,000 satellites to provide internet access globally, to compete with the commercial constellations being built by SpaceX, OneWeb, and (someday) Amazon.

Spectrum allocation filings submitted to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by China in September last year revealed plans to construct two similarly named “GW” [Guowang] low Earth orbit constellations totaling 12,992 satellites. The filings indicate plans for GW to consist of sub-constellations ranging from 500-1,145 kilometers in altitude with inclinations between 30-85 degrees. The satellites would operate across a range of frequency bands.

Currently no details have been released on the contractors to be involved in the constellation. Notably the China Satellite Network Group will exist independent from and parallel to China’s main space contractors, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), and the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC).

The apparent independence of China Satellite Network Group from CASC and CASIC indicates that other actors, such as other state-owned enterprises and commercial sector space companies could be involved in the construction of the constellation.

Not only does the creation of this company suggest a power-struggle within China’s government, it illustrates the intensifying competition internationally over space. While commercial satellite constellations like SpaceX and OneWeb will be able to provide their services to China, they will also be outside the control of that nation’s dictatorship. If their citizens use them they will have free access to information, something that China’s leaders refuse to allow.

Thus, the political decision in China to build their own constellation. It will also give China the ability to exert its influence worldwide by offering an alternative to the commercial western constellations, one that other dictators can control as well.

Expect more whining from astronomers about how this constellation of satellites will add to their woes. Instead of whining, might they finally decide to at last consider building in-space telescopes, where there is no atmosphere to fog their view and no satellites blocking their vision?