China launches test satellites for orbiting broadband service

GalaxySpace plans 144 birds for small-footprint high-surveillance service

Chinese satellite broadband outfit GalaxySpace has launched the first satellites in a planned low Earth orbit constellation that will eventually offer a wireless internet service.

The sats went aloft over the weekend atop a Long March 2-C rocket that also hauled an Earth observation sat into the heavens.

GalaxySpace aims to provide 5G internet at speeds of 40Gbit/sec.

Last January, GalaxySpace named the test network, nicknamed "little spider web", and promised it would provide low orbit broadband for more than 30 minutes at a time and inform development of a planned 144-satellite constellation.

The company said that the price of creating such a satellite has halved since its first one was built, and it has managed to keep the weight of each unit to 190kg.

"The successful mission proved that China has built up the low cost, batch development, and networking operation capabilities of satellites – all factors that are necessary to build a satellite internet mega-constellation," said state sponsored media, Global Times.

The future megaconstellation will be overseen by Beijing.

The elephant in the room is that 144 satellites is not very many, compared to rivals like SpaceX's 2,000-birds-and-growing Starlink constellation or planned constellations from Amazon. Starlink has more than 2,000 satellites already in orbit and Amazon's planned fleet calls for 7,774 units – up from an original 3,236.

GalaxySpace's planned fleet is also on the low side compared to local rivals. The Hongyan and Hongyun projects – owned by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, respectively – have been launching test satellites since 2018. Hongyan plans 324 total satellites, while Hongyun will have 157.

Smaller constellation networks aren't unheard of elsewhere. Boeing's been approved for 147 that will provide services to the US, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, and the UK government-backed OneWeb has planned 648.

If Beijing sticks to a nice low number like 144 the service won't be useful beyond the Middle Kingdom – and GalaxySpace specifically said the satellites will "accelerate the construction of China's satellite internet." In the end, that might just suit the increasingly insular country just fine. ®

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