- China is taking the competition to Elon Musk in the space race.
- China will launch the first satellites in a new low-orbit network next month.
- The 300 satellites will orbit at a much lower altitude than their competitors.
A Chinese company plans to launch the first of 300 very low orbit satellites next month in a rival constellation to Elon Musk’s Starlink network.
The planned constellation will eventually consist of 300 communications and remote-sensing satellites, CGTN reported.
China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp plans to put 192 satellites in orbit by 2027, with 300 by 2030, the outlet reported.
Compared with Musk’s satellite network, which orbits at about 550 kilometers, the Chinese satellites will orbit at an altitude of about 300 to 450 kilometers, per Bloomberg.
Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) satellites are at greater risk of being disrupted by the Earth’s gravitational pull. More are also needed to provide as much connectivity.
However, this type of satellite is smaller and cheaper to make, less likely to collide with space debris, and provide better connections, research has found.
The launch will be the latest step forward for China’s space program, and a further cause for concern among US defense experts.
China recently launched its own crewed space station, announced plans to build a base on the moon, and beat SpaceX and Amazon’s Blue Origin to launch a methane-fueled rocket into orbit.
China has also doubled its number of satellites to more than 700 since 2019, with about a third used for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, according to the Chief of Space Operations, Gen. Chance Saltzman.
But for now China remains far behind Elon Musk’s Starlink constellation.
SpaceX now has more than 5,000 satellites and is aiming to step up its launch schedule next year. Musk says eventually he plans to create a constellation of 42,000 satellites.
SpaceX is set for the second launch of its giant Starship rocket this weekend. It will be able to carry the new generation of larger Starlink satellites.
Musk has said that more than 1,000 changes have been made to the rocket in an effort to prevent it blowing up like it did on the first attempt in April.