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China wants its own version of Elon Musk’s Starlink

May 22, 2023

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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Chinese Communist Party is trying pretty hard to make Elon Musk blush. Starlink, the billionaire’s satellite-powered internet network, is a technological marvel and China wants to build a version of its own.

The utility of high-speed internet connections being beamed down from low-orbit satellites is on full display in Ukraine. When the Russians attacked, telecommunications infrastructure were some of the first targets. At that point, Starlink was often the most reliable form of communication for civilians and military alike. Musk eventually limited Starlink’s role in direct military operations, something China is guaranteed not to do.

To get its own space-based internet off the ground, China needs to launch fleets of satellites in low-orbit groupings called constellations. The Wall Street Journal reported the Chinese military is speeding up deployment of constellations over concerns the areas best suited for orbit could become rather crowded.

Last year, China launched 182 satellites. That’s about 10% of what the U.S. deployed. If China keeps to its current course, however, it could double its launch capacity in the next two years. The country made satellite-internet a priority in 2020 and may include funding for it in the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s trillion-dollar infrastructure program.

One of the reasons satellite constellations are so valuable is their ability to bring high-speed internet to remote in-land areas or to ships at sea. Access to traditional internet, which is carried by fiber-optic cable, isn’t possible in those remote regions of the globe.

China’s satellite constellations will most likely be a direct competitor to Musk’s Starlink network. Countries like Pakistan and Egypt, which rely on China for their own digital infrastructure, will probably be some of the first foreign customers for the satellite constellations once they’re in orbit.

The U.S. and China are currently engaged in a new space race. Both countries are planning manned-missions to the moon within the next several years. In 2019, China became the first country to land a rover on the dark side of the moon. By 2030, China said it plans to return samples from Mars.

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IF IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY, THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY IS TRYING PRETTY HARD TO MAKE ELON MUSK BLUSH. STARLINK, THE BILLIONAIRE’S SATELLITE-POWERED INTERNET NETWORK, IS A TECHNOLOGICAL MARVEL, AND CHINA WANTS TO BUILD ITS OWN VERSION OF IT.

 

THE UTILITY OF HIGH-SPEED INTERNET CONNECTIONS BEING BEAMED DOWN FROM LOW-ORBIT SATELLITES IS ON FULL DISPLAY IN UKRAINE. WHEN THE RUSSIANS ATTACKED, TELECOMMUNICATIONS INFRASTRUCTURE WERE SOME OF THE FIRST TARGETS. AT THAT POINT, STARLINK WAS OFTEN THE MOST RELIABLE FORM OF COMMUNICATION FOR CIVILIANS AND MILITARY ALIKE. MUSK EVENTUALLY LIMITED STARLINK’S ROLE IN DIRECT MILITARY OPERATIONS, SOMETHING CHINA IS GUARANTEED NOT TO DO.

 

TO GET ITS OWN SPACE-BASED INTERNET OFF THE GROUND, CHINA NEEDS TO LAUNCH FLEETS OF SATELLITES IN LOW-ORBIT GROUPINGS CALLED CONSTELLATIONS. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTED THE CHINESE MILITARY IS SPEEDING UP DEPLOYMENT OF CONSTELLATIONS OVER CONCERNS THE AREAS BEST SUITED FOR ORBIT COULD BECOME RATHER CROWDED.

 

LAST YEAR, CHINA LAUNCHED 182 SATELLITES, ABOUT 10 PERCENT OF WHAT THE U.S DEPLOYED. BUT IF CHINA KEEPS THE COURSE, IT COULD DOUBLE ITS LAUNCH CAPACITY IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS. THE COUNTRY MADE SATELLITE-INTERNET A PRIORITY IN 2020, AND MAY INCLUDE IT IN THE BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE, CHINA’S TRILLION DOLLAR INFRASTRUCTURE PROGRAM.

 

SATELLITE CONSTELLATIONS CAN BRING HIGH-SPEED INTERNET TO REMOTE IN-LAND AREAS OR TO SHIPS AT SEA, WHERE ACCESS TO TRADITIONAL INTERNET CARRIED BY FIBER-OPTIC CABLE ISN’T REALLY POSSIBLE. CHINA’S SATELLITE CONSTELLATIONS WILL MOST LIKELY BE A DIRECT COMPETITOR TO MUSK’S STARKLINK NETWORK. COUNTRIES LIKE PAKISTAN AND EGYPT, WHICH RELY ON CHINA FOR THEIR OWN DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURE, WILL PROBABLY BE SOME OF THE FIRST FOREIGN CUSTOMERS FOR THE SATELLITE CONSTELLATIONS ONCE THEY’RE IN ORBIT.

 

FOR MORE ON THE U.S. VS CHINA SPACE RACE, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS DOT COM, WHERE YOU’LL ALWAYS FIND THE UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACTS.