China lobs tech demo into orbit for People's Republic version of Starlink

Another mega-constellation incoming

China has launched an Internet Technology test satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China's Sichuan Province.

The Long March 2D rocket launched at 1800 Beijing Time (1000 UTC) on November 23, marking the 498th mission of the Long March carrier rocket series. It is China's 54th rocket launch this year, according to China Daily.

China's various media mouthpieces said the payload consisted of a single satellite, and its description suggests the purpose is for testing technology to be used for the nation's version of mega-constellations, such as Starlink and the soon-to-be-launched Project Kuiper.

Although the dimensions of the satellite remain shrouded in mystery – China only confirmed the mission once the payload was successfully launched – the Long March 2D is capable of sending a 1.3-ton spacecraft into a Sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 700km.

Another payload, also dubbed the "Space-based Internet Technology Demonstrator," was launched on a Long March 2C from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on July 9. As with yesterday's launch, the payload's purpose was to "carry out test missions for satellite internet technologies."

While Chinese authorities claimed a single satellite was launched on the July 9 mission, two objects have since been cataloged.

Although not confirmed by authorities, it's likely that the technology being tested is for China's mega-constellation project, named Guowang. Guowang is planned to consist of thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit to facilitate telecommunication and internet coverage.

It is, however, taking a while to set up. According to Shanghai Securities News, in 2021 Bao Weimin, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and director of the Science and Technology Committee of the Aerospace Science and Technology Group, said: "We are planning and developing space internet satellites, and have launched test satellites."

More than two years later, it appears testing is still under way. However, it means astronomers will soon have even more objects in the sky to worry about should Guowang proceed as planned. ®

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