DFH #42: Updates from China's Answer to Starlink 🛰️ 🇨🇳, In-Flight Connectivity in China ✈️ 📡, and a Whole Lot More!

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The Dongfang Hour
The Dongfang Hour
Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, by Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville, and with editing by Orbital Gateway Consulting Analyst Aurélie Gillet.

What's up in Chinese Space this Week?
Welcome to the Dongfang Hour China Space Newsletter for 14-20 Feb 2022. This week, we focus on China SatNet and its answer to Starlink in the Highlight of the Week. We also analyse updates on in-flight connectivity (IFC) developments, Shandong Industrial & Technology Research Institute’s project to build not one, but two constellations, China’s proposal to establish formal communication lines for space safety, and much more.
China's Guowang Constellation, operated by SatNet: a response to Starlink?
China's Guowang Constellation, operated by SatNet: a response to Starlink?
Highlight of the Week: Updates on China SatNet
This week, we saw multiple updates from China’s response to Starlink, China SatNet. China Satellite Networks Limited, or China SatNet (中国星网), was established in April 2021 under the direct supervision of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC) - elevating it at the same level of CASC and CASIC.
SatNet will likely be the operator of China’s broadband super constellation called Guowang (国家网络,or 国网, “National Network”), aka China’s answer to Starlink, and will arguably absorb both the Hongyan project by CASC and CASIC’s Hongyun project. As suggested by China SatNet Chairman Yang Baohua, the decision to establish China SatNet may come from President Xi Jinping himself. Although no official timeline for the deployment of Guowang has been announced, we assume that 2022 will begin to see test satellites launched.
Last week saw the release of two significant updates related to China SatNet. First, China SatNet’s Zhang Dongchen and Yang Baohua visited with the leadership of the Shanghai Municipal Government, signing a strategic cooperation agreement with the city. The meeting came on the same day that Shanghai released a number of initiatives to support the municipal space sector, including provisions for mass satellite manufacturing, a first for such a buzz phrase to be mentioned by the Shanghai Municipal Government.
Secondly, China SatNet visited Chinese commercial satellite constellation operator Guodian Gaoke, apparently the second such occurrence during this year. As reported by Guodian Gaoke, the company hosted leadership from China SatNet once during the first week of 2022, and again just this past week, when they welcomed the China SatNet Application Research Institute, a SatNet subsidiary focused on developing application.
Such pieces of news reveal that China SatNet is spreading its influence towards cooperation with Chinese commercial space firms, quite possibly with plans to procure satellites for its Guowang constellation. The choice of Shanghai is not a surprising one, since the city is home to a plethora of space companies, SOEs as much as commercial ones. We note Shanghai is the second city with who’s leadership SatNet has met, following similar meetings with Chongqing last year.
In order to bring its project to fruition, China SatNet will need to develop a variety of technologies, including a new generation of ground equipment. On the topic, Chengdu-based terminal manufacturer Starwin recently tested a Ku/Ka-band electronically-steered antenna electronically-steered antenna (ESA), which may in the future have LEO applications. Using ChinaSat-16, the terminal allowed a vehicle to reach internet speeds of 20/8 Mbps downlink/uplink.
Zhang Dongchen and Yang Baohua from China SatNet meet with Shanghai Leadership
Zhang Dongchen and Yang Baohua from China SatNet meet with Shanghai Leadership
The Week in Launch
CASIC launch subsidiary Expace celebrated its 6th birthday this week. The company was one of China’s earliest commercial launch companies, and was the first commercial launch company to successfully orbit a rocket (though many would rightly say that iSpace was the first commercial company without significant SOE backing to have done so). The CASIC subsidiary has had its ups and downs over the past 6 years, including most recently failing in the 14th attempt of its KZ-1A rocket (the success rate is now 12/14). 
Two other pieces of news are worth mentioning, and they relate to state-owned enterprises. First, the 165th Institute of the CASC 6th Academy, aka the Xi’an Aerospace Power Test Technology Institute, completed a test of their 18-ton liquid kerolox engine in the “Baolongyu Experimental Zone” (抱龙峪试验区). The 18-ton liquid kerolox engine is already used on China’s new generation of launch vehicles, including the Long March-6 and LM-7. This successful test opens the door for a broadened application range of the engine as well as for an improved payload capacity.
Secondly, on February 13, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) and Changzhi City (Shanxi) signed a strategic cooperation framework agreement. Both parties will cooperate to build high-end equipment manufacturing capacities, promote technical cooperation and industrial development, and build aerospace technology talent exchange platforms. CALT is a subsidiary of CASC and a major state-owned space launch vehicle manufacturer, in charge of the design and development of the Long March series. The company already has a presence in the city through the Changzhi Qinghua Machinery Plant (长治清华机械厂), responsible for final assembly of transporter-erector launcher (TELs) and other related vehicles. Changzhi is also home to Orient Fitness and Health Industrial, the company that developed the bike used by taikonauts aboard the CSS to keep in shape.
CALT and Changzhi city (Shanxi) sign a strategic cooperation framework agreement
CALT and Changzhi city (Shanxi) sign a strategic cooperation framework agreement
The Week in China’s Space Program
China appears to be testing a new orbit around the Moon with the Chang’e 5 service module, according to findings by amateur satellite tracker Scott Tilley (among others). Chang’e 5 is currently in a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) of the moon, meaning that “it orbits in the direction opposite of the Moon’s orbital motion around Earth.” NASA is planning on utilizing this orbit for its Artemis 1 mission.
On another topic – recently, we saw CMSA release publicly the first picture ever of Wentian, which is one of the two experimental modules of the Chinese Space Station, and scheduled for launch later this summer. This week, we made a deep dive into this module in our weekly episode.
Firstly, as a brief recap, the CSS is composed of 3 modules: the Tianhe-1 core module which is already in orbit and that serves as the main headquarters for the taikonauts and the control center of the space station. Next, Wentian and Mengtian, are experimental modules dedicated more specifically to space sciences. Visually speaking, Wentian looks quite similar to Tianhe-1. Despite the apparent similarities, there are actually quite a few differences - among which propulsion: similar to Tianhe-1, Wentian has a number of thrusters for attitude control, but rather than have them all around the propulsion unit as it’s the case on Tianhe-1, they are spread out between the large and smaller cylindrical modules. 
Second, Wentian will extend the number of living quarters to 6 by providing 3 additional sleeping spaces, on top of the 3 sleeping areas in the Tianhe-1 core module. Third, Wentian, as well as Mengtian, will have massive solar arrays, and they will become the main energy source for the CSS as they are much larger than the current ones on Tianhe-1.
Fourth, while the Tianhe-1 core module already has one large 10m long robotic manipulator, Wentian also has the specificity of having its own smaller 5m-long robotic arm. This arm can be combined with the main robotic arm to form a massive 15m-long robotic arm which can reach anywhere of the future completed space station, thanks to its ability to crawl, using the arm attachments situated all around the station. 
Lastly, as you’d expect from an experimental module, Wentian will be chock-full of experiments. As an example, the external bay will be helpful for experiments which are aiming at being exposed to the space environment, vacuum & solar radiation – for example for breeding new species of crops.
The Next Big Upgrade to the Chinese Space Station?
The Next Big Upgrade to the Chinese Space Station?
The Week in Satellite Applications
Last week saw a couple of interesting updates from the in-flight connectivity, or IFC space, in China. A February 16 article reported that the Chinese National Women’s Football Team (Steel Roses/铿锵玫瑰), that won the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup held in Mumbai over the past handful of weeks, was interviewed mid-flight on their return from Mumbai to Shanghai. The interview, broadcast live on CCTV, took place on a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 777, which was connected to the Apstar-6D satellite using Ku-band HTS satellite capacity.
The article mentions that in the future, China Eastern plans to have its entire fleet outfitted with IFC by 2030. This would be pretty unprecedented for a Chinese airline, with most airlines in China very slow to roll out IFC services - this due to two main factors: 1) a slow approval process by the government, combined with highly conservative airlines, and 2) a general lack of satellite capacity, with primarily traditional widebeam satellites in-service over China. Yet things are starting to change.
Indeed, last week also saw the publication of a paper written by CCID, a think tank under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s Electronic Information Research Institute (国家工业和信息化部中国电子信息产业发展研究院), calling for reform in China’s in-flight connectivity market. Several key points were outlined in the paper. First, to bring costs down, CCID recommends adding more satellite and ATG capacity, aligning standards, and creating a more well-integrated industrial base. Second, there needs to be more integration between the IFC value chain and broader tech ecosystems, particularly calling for platform internet companies to enter the market. The paper also notes that China’s IFC sector needs a wider variety of ways of monetization.
Moving forward, there’s enormous potential in the IFC sector in China, but ultimately, they’re going to need more capacity. Fortunately, China Satcom and APT Satellite are launching more HTS capacity in the coming years, including ChinaSat-19 and ChinaSat-26 (both were expected to launch in 2022, as of mid-2021). With this new capacity, it’s entirely possible that China’s big tech firms will start to subsidize the services.
The Steel Roses (铿锵玫瑰) after their victory in Mumbai
The Steel Roses (铿锵玫瑰) after their victory in Mumbai
Moving on, three other updates are worth mentioning. First, Geely’s Qingdao subsidiary Shanghe Aerospace & Shanghai Ocean Shipping Co. (上海远洋运输有限公司) signed a strategic cooperation agreement to jointly promote Beidou 3 solutions for maritime applications. More particularly, the two parties will jointly promote R&D and applications of the Beidou-3 series products, provide relevant solutions for ocean transportation, and help the industrialization and international development of the Beidou system. As mentioned in the article, nearly 90% of the world’s goods are mainly transported by sea; using satellite communication, navigation and positioning technology to ensure efficient and stable navigation of ships at sea is of great strategic significance to the development of global trade.
Second, Guodian Gaoke met with Yonyou Technology last week, in addition to China SatNet’s visit. Yonyou Technology is a major enterprise software company, who visited Guodian Gaoke to discuss ways that the latter’s Tianqi IoT constellation can enable new solutions for Yonyou’s customers. It has been a busy week for Guodian Gaoke!
Lastly, last week was the Lantern Festival, aka 上元节 or 元宵节, a holiday in China that celebrates the 15th day of the first lunar month, and also represents the end of the traditional Chinese New Year celebration period. The holiday typically involves lighting lanterns and eating tāng yuán (汤圆), or semi-dumplings full of black sesame paste or other fillings. During this year’s holiday, CGSTL utilized its Jilin-01 constellation of EO satellites to capture images and videos of the Nanxi Wetland Park in Changchun, the company’s hometown.
Images of the Lantern Festival in Changchun, captured by CGSTL
Images of the Lantern Festival in Changchun, captured by CGSTL
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
Last week, the Shandong Industrial & Technology Research Institute (山东产研院) gave updates on its two planned constellations, for Earth Observation and GNSS enhancing respectively. 
A first batch of 8 EO satellites will be launched in 2022, including the Qilu-2 and 3 (to be launched in July). They will join the Qilu-1 and Qilu-4 satellites, launched in April last year - with Qilu-1 being a SAR satellite. In the next 3-5 years, the Institute will complete the deployment of about 20 remote sensing satellites. The Qilu EO constellation will contribute to providing high-quality remote sensing satellite data, a market that Lei Bin, Vice President of the Institute, identifies as still underdeveloped in China. It will also be helpful to the “Smart Yangtze River” project undertaken by a subsidiary of the company to monitor the River Basin.
This constellation will likely be the product of a cooperation with HKATG, after the Institute signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the company in August 2021 to “jointly build and operate the world’s first high-resolution agricultural satellite constellation” and to cooperate on space technology more broadly. Both parties will also jointly build the Hong Kong-Shandong Satellite Technology and Application Innovation Laboratory and the Hong Kong Aviation Science Satellite Intelligent Manufacturing and Application Center, to provide agricultural information on the Shandong Peninsula, the Greater Bay Area, China and the world.
Lastly, the Institute plans to develop a satnav enhancing constellation composed of 160 satellites, developed in partnership with Centispace (未来导航). The first test satellite has successfully completed various in-orbit tests; the ground station for TT&C, as well as the satnav satellites, are under construction. The Institute plans to achieve global coverage by 2023.
The Week in Policy & Events
T​he State Council issued China’s 14th Five-Year Plan for the National Emergency Response System, which included plans for improving China’s remote sensing and comms satellite constellation capabilities in the context of emergency response. In addition to calling for more implementation of IoT, 5G, etc., in creating an emergency response network, the plan calls for improving emergency satellite EO constellations, building a disaster accident monitoring and early warning network covering the sky, earth, and sea, and also increase the deployment and application of high throughput satellites for emergency response purposes.
The past several years have seen the space sector play an important role in China’s disaster response capabilities. Most recently, this included last summer’s major flooding in Henan, where a large number of remote sensing satellites providing flood data, and a number of comms satellites offering emergency connectivity. Full plan available here
Other News of the Week
Following a couple of close encounters between Starlink satellites and the Chinese Space Station in July (Starlink-1095) and October 2021 (Starlink-2305), China recently proposed formal lines of communication with the US to enhance space safety. The proposal was made by Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a press conference on February 10:
“With a view to protecting the safety of Chinese astronauts and space station, the Chinese side stands ready to establish a long-term communication mechanism with the U.S. side and hopes that the U.S. will take concrete measures to prevent such incident from happening again.”
The closeness of the encounters mentioned above is yet still disputed, with the US claiming that “the threshold of established emergency collision criteria” was not reached. The US has not yet accepted or rejected the proposal.
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