Currently, there are about 3000 satellites in orbit around the Earth in working order, which perform various tasks. About 400 of them are owned by the Chinese government or companies from the Middle Kingdom. In the near future, the Chinese are planning to strengthen their presence in orbit by launching thousands or even tens of thousands of new vehicles.
In general, there is nothing wrong with that if the Chinese coordinate the launch / placement of satellites with other operators, as well as closely monitor what is happening in orbit. Otherwise, the problem of space debris will become much more urgent than it is now. Let’s see what the Chinese are planning there.
Space technology race
The launch of the company’s new space program is document with the title “Document 60”. Its official title is Guiding Opinions of the State Council on Innovating the Investment and Financing Mechanisms in Key Areas and Encouraging Social Investment. It was developed in 2014.
In 2020 China added satellite internet as one of the areas of work. Moreover, space is one of the priorities of the Belt and Road Initiative. In general, all this says only one thing – China is very actively developing its space program. This is evidenced by the country’s successes in studying the moon, creating its own space station and other projects.
Now the PRC plans to commercialize space – in particular, by deploying a satellite Internet network. Yes, China is not original here, it follows the path outlined by SpaceX and OneWeb, but this is good – the Celestial Empire does not need to reinvent the wheel, it can only be slightly modified and sent to production. That is, the likelihood that China will deploy its mega-constellation of satellites in the near future is far from zero.
A start has already been made
In order to work in this industry, China plans to first establish a national satellite operator, which will be responsible for “coordinating and planning operations to deploy a satellite communications network.”
But other Chinese companies will also be involved in this task. In particular, the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) has already announced the close completion of work within the Xingyun project. The company plans to launch about 80 satellites into low Earth orbit, followed by 320 more satellites by 2025.
China Telecom’s plans are much more ambitious – the company is going to launch at least 10,000 into orbit in the next five years. The network will be named China StarNet. Spacety launches observation satellites into orbit – at the moment 20 of them are already in operation. Another company, GW, is implementing a project to launch into orbit around 13,000 communication satellites… They will be divided into two bands, the corresponding satellite groups are called GW-A59 and GW-2.
Other companies also have their own projects to form satellite orbital groups, including Zhuhai Orbita, GalaxySpace, MinoSpace, LaserFleet, Head Aerospace. They will develop a variety of communication services, including broadband Internet, 5G, IoT and others. And all these projects provide for the launch of thousands and thousands of communication satellites during the next few years…
So far, the volume of private investment in this area in China is slightly lower than in the United States – hundreds of millions of dollars instead of billions. But this situation is beginning to change rapidly. So, at the beginning of 2021, Beijing Commsat received about $ 4.5 billion from the China Internet Investment investment fund. In the future, the fund has promised to allocate another $ 10 billion.
The total number of satellites that China is going to launch into orbit will be 30,000 – 40,000. The United States plans to send about the same number of satellites.
Everything is fine, but there is one “but” …
Only Starlink satellites are shown here. Now imagine that there are 10-100 times more yellow dots
The problem is in space debris and the general congestion of near-earth space. Whereas geostationary and some other orbits are controlled by international regulators, low Earth orbit is controlled by national regulators. And their rules can be very different, including the allowed number of orbiting satellites.
Now satellites are being launched in the thousands, in the near future this number will increase to tens of thousands. This means that any collision of 2-3 or more vehicles in space threatens us with the appearance of a huge number of uncontrolled particles of space debris, increasing at an alarming rate.
Most particles and objects follow predictable paths. But sometimes surprises happen. In 2007, China decided to flex its muscles and detonated its own weather satellite Fengyun-1C with a rocket. Everything would be nothing – your property, blow up and blow up yourself. But the problem is that during the explosion, the satellite collapsed into a whole cloud of various debris, large and small. They began to collide with each other and other objects, provoking a chain reaction of space debris.
If we also recall Iridium-33 and Cosmos-2251, then the problem becomes even more serious.
“Imagine that all the ships lost over the past centuries would drift on the surface of the oceans. This is exactly what is happening in orbit now, and this situation can no longer continue. Therefore, all ESA member states have actively supported this mission, ”said the head of the ESA, Johann-Dietrich Werner.
More recently, the satellites OneWeb and SpaceX nearly collided, passing literally 50 meters from each other. And now the total number of objects in low orbit is not so great. Everything will change when there are more of them – much more.
To avoid problems, you need reliable regulation
According to experts from the United States, China is rapidly developing its space program, but is in no hurry to impose tough regulations. So, it took the country about 20 years to start adhering to the rule of clearing important orbits from non-working satellites. And without tight regulation, the Chinese mega-constellation of satellites will become a threat to other objects.
Satellites should be controlled by both national and global regulators, and the rules that make working in space relatively safe should be implemented promptly.
It seems that China is still thinking about this issue – it already has both regulatory bodies and rules that allow it to control the development of the satellite industry. But we also need reliable interaction with other countries, and then everything will be fine.
If we abstract from the problem with space debris, we can only be glad that there are more and more global communication systems that cover most of the planet.