China Plans to Surpass the U.S. with 26,000 Low-Orbit Satellites by 2030
China’s Aspiration to Launch 26,000 Low-Earth Orbit Satellites
The Goal of Space Supremacy and Rivalry with the United States
China has revealed plans to launch a staggering 26,000 low-earth orbit satellites by 2030, aiming to become a space superpower on par with the United States. This comes as satellite-based communication systems have emerged as an essential military technology in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war and the Gaza conflict. The government plans to build its satellite network.
In 2020, the Chinese government announced plans to launch approximately 13,000 satellites to build a high-speed internet network and established the state-owned China Satellite Network Group (CSNG) the following year. According to a report by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, CSNG plans to launch 1,300 satellites, equivalent to 10% of the initial plan, from the first half of this year until 2029. This will pave the way for a high-speed 6th-generation (6G) communication support network by 2035. Not only CSNG but also Shanghai government-owned Shanghai Guosheng Group plans to launch 12,000 low-earth orbit satellites, and private company Galaxy Space Technology also plans to send 1,000 satellites into space.
SpaceX’s Role in Recent Conflicts and Communication Support
China’s decision to launch satellites is a response to SpaceX’s deployment of its low-earth orbit satellite communication network, Starlink, in recent conflicts. When Russia’s attacks disrupted Ukraine’s internet infrastructure, SpaceX intervened by providing high-speed internet access through Starlink, allowing uninterrupted communication without dependence on traditional ground-based stations. Similarly, in the Gaza Strip, SpaceX offered to support international aid organizations’ communications when conflict disrupted them. However, Israel declined this proposal, citing concerns that Hamas might exploit the technology for terrorist activities.
China’s Strategic Approach to Space
As low-earth orbit satellite communication technology begins to determine the outcome of wars, Chinese President Xi Jinping has designated space businesses, including commercial satellite launches, as national strategic emerging businesses and is providing full support. The management of CSNG, which seems to prove its military purpose, comprises personnel from the China Electronics Corporation (CEC), which is responsible for military information technology, and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). China has already completed its own satellite navigation system, BeiDou (BDS), in December 2018 and started global satellite services. The Chinese government has ordered domestic companies to use BDS instead of the Global Positioning System (GPS) developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, citing security reasons. Over 100 countries in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa that have close ties with China are using BDS instead of GPS.
There is a sense of crisis in the United States and Europe over China’s acceleration of its low-earth orbit satellite development. In September last year, when the Chinese company Shanghai Aerospace Communication Satellite Technology tried to acquire the German satellite startup Kleo Connect, the German government denied it. Boeing in the United States also planned to sell satellites to a domestic startup. Still, the contract was canceled when it came to light that a company backed by the Chinese government had invested in the startup.