China Adding to “Cosmic Debris” With Planned Launch of Satellites

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Commercial companies are increasing the number of satellites sent into space each year. With no international laws regarding End of Life protocols regarding satellite disposals in Low Earth Orbit, space is becoming increasingly crowded, reported DCD. The onus is on individual companies and local regulators to manage space, and not all things are equal. 

Not to be left behind Western space players, Chinese companies have big plans to deploy constellation satellites — over 23,000 in the next five to ten years. However, according to DCD, if China doesn’t adhere to “space norms,” its satellites could add to space debris and increase the risk of in-orbit incidents.  

According to Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, China’s commercial space ambitions are becoming a reality, catching up with other world players like SpaceX and OneWeb. “We have the same phenomenon as the U.S. companies in that they’re moving fast and they’re innovative and doing new things,” he said.  

McDowell added that if Chinese companies lack care in their operations, they could potentially damage space for everyone. “Chinese adherence to things like space debris norms and registration norms is, I would say, about 10 years behind everybody else, if not more,” he says. “In U.N. registration of satellites, they’re being very incomplete…They’re not really being as careful, and they’re not as transparent in what’s going on.”

China’s plans for moving into space include the construction of the Xingyun project (by 2025), an 80-satellite LEO narrowband Internet of Things constellation, in addition to 320 Hongyan communications satellites. The plans for the deployment were released by The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, a state-owned enterprise, reported DCD.

Many Chinese companies are developing constellations to provide satellite broadband, 5G, IoT, and various data services. Some examples include:

  • China Telecom, which has plans to launch 10,000 satellites in the next five to ten years.
  • Spacety, which has already deployed 20 imagery satellites, with more to come.
  • GW, which has filed for spectrum allocation from the International Telecommunication Union, anticipates launching nearly 13,000 satellites. 

Although funding for Chinese space deployment isn’t as high as U.S. companies, budgets are growing. According to DCD, earlier this year, Beijing Commsat received more than $4.5 billion in funding from the China Internet Investment fund, with over $10 billion in future funding promised.

Xie Tao, the founder of Beijing Commsat Technology Development Co., Ltd, anticipates the country will launch 30,000 to 40,000 satellites in the future. “Space in the orbit is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, and the onus will be on these latecomers to ensure their satellites will not collide with existing ones,” Xie said. “The low-Earth orbit is becoming increasingly crowded, and the space land grab is on.”

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