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Commsat aims high with satellite system launch

By Zhu Wenqian | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-15 06:44

Chinese group sets sights on nation's first commercial low-orbit network

Editor's note: In the run-up to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, China Daily will cover a series of key projects and advanced equipment of national importance, showcasing the country's huge improvements and relentless efforts in manufacturing upgrading and innovation.

In the next three years, China will launch its first commercial low-orbit satellites system, designed to collect real-time data for industries including the heavy machinery and logistics sectors, according to the company behind it.

Beijing-based private company Commsat Technology Development Co Ltd said that from 2018 to 2020, it will position 60 satellites at six different orbits, about 600 kilometers above the earth.

Commsat said it has finished testing and has applied for relevant communication bandwidths and orbit positions at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's radio communication office.

The group said it expected to get approval by early next year, and then the company will apply for additional approval from the International Telecommunication Union.

Ultimately, Commsat plans to deploy more than 800 such satellites. Currently, there are about 300 to 400 low trajectory satellites orbiting the earth, launched mostly by US and European aerospace manufacturers.

Unlike high orbit satellites - positioned more than 20,000 kilometers above the earth and mainly used for mobile phones and GPS - the low-orbit satellites will function for those industries with less intensive demand for information.

In the meantime, Commsat said it is in discussions with major local heavy machinery companies, container groups, as well as other industries, including the maritime and forest conservation sectors, to expand the number of potential applications for its satellites.

The 60 satellites will cost an estimated 1.5 billion yuan ($220 million), and the company has completed three rounds of financing, with investors including CITIC Securities and other equity funds.

Commsat CEO Xie Tao said he plans to establish some of the satellite ground stations in countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, and provide them services at low prices. He said users could share data or keep it confidential, depending on their preferences.

"The satellites can be used for fieldwork, offshore operations and forest fire prevention. Most of these places don't have the internet and the low-orbit satellites will help with telecommunications," he said.

Peter Deak, an economic attache at the Hungarian embassy in Beijing, said many countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative lagged behind with construction of infrastructure for the internet and needed the support of such satellites.

"Hungary needs the help of Commsat in sectors such as innovative medical products," he said.

Last year, the US accounted for 47 percent of total revenues generated by the global commercial satellite launching market, driven largely by US aerospace manufacturer SpaceX. Analysts say that SpaceX and European aerospace manufacturer Arianespace have effectively created a satellite duopoly in space.

In China, the satellite space industry was originally a defense industry, but military satellites had limited commercial value. The Chinese government has subsequently pushed the integration of military and civilian aerospace sectors forward, and the nation's space industry has gradually developed more commercial technologies, products and services.

According to a white paper released by the State Council in December last year, the government aims to encourage private capital to enter the commercial aerospace sector, as well as operate satellites and be involved in aerospace research and build infrastructure in space.

Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of the China National Space Administration, said commercial aerospace has become a new hot spot in the global economy, and the industry is expanding at unprecedented pace.

Meanwhile, Commsat said that a low-orbit entertainment satellite, to be launched by the end of this year or early next year, will be equipped with a special high-tech camera, to transmit pictures to earth.

It said customers will be able to download an app, allowing them run real-time space pictures on their photo backgrounds with the help of the satellite camera.

In May, China's leading bicycle-sharing service ofo said it would invest in the entertainment satellite, and it is looking at launching some exciting applications for its users, including enabling riders to make so-called space selfies.

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