The country is investing heavily in its own satellite constellations in near-earth orbit
There was a wave of companies in recent years hoping to offer broadband internet from thousands of satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) that cover most of the earth’s surface.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen excitement in this category. Companies and people you’ve heard of – Bill Gates and Motorola to name a few – invested billions of dollars in this business model two decades ago, an adventure that ended in many bankruptcies and very few people from Earth using connected to the Internet were Orbit. But here we are 20 years later, seeing billionaires from Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos and companies from SoftBank to the UK invested billions in broadband from space in a gold rush that began around 2015 and has only accelerated since early 2020.
During the same period, we have seen a parallel increase in China’s space capabilities. Simultaneously with SpaceX’s accelerated rollout of the Starlink constellation in 2020, China has reacted quickly in terms of politics, funding and technology, most notably creating a “Chinese answer to Starlink,” namely constellation operator China SatNet and its associated GuoWang国 网 or National Net (work)) constellation.
While SatNet and GuoWang are still in the early stages of development, they are likely to compete with Starlink and others in certain markets while serving a similar strategic purpose from a government perspective. With considerable support from very high-profile actors, we are likely to see the launch of a Red Star (link) over China (and the rest of the world) in the years to come.
The rapid rise of Starlink
China’s LEO constellation plans cannot be understood in a vacuum. As in many other areas of high-tech investment, China is reacting in part to developments in the West. The acceleration and expansion of western LEO constellations in recent years – Starlink in particular – has accelerated China’s own plans.