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Guowang, Renamed China SatNet, Will Be China’s Global Broadband Provider

China sending a group of new remote sensing satellites into orbit from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province. (July 26, 2020 / China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.)

In an earlier post, I described what looked like two forthcoming Chinese broadband constellations, Hongyun and Hongyan and in another post, I described a third, identified as “GW” at the time. All three were projects of state-owned enterprises China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC).

There was pushback from those contending that a broadband constellation was redundant since Chinese mobile operators China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom cover most big cities and even more sparsely populated regions like Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia. On the other hand, if a constellation were built, some remote cell towers could be de-commissioned and, in my mind more important, China could serve other nations as part of its Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative. Chinese authorities are aware of the constellations of SpaceX and others, and China would have an economic and political advantage over them in nations with Belt and Road projects. (It is noteworthy that a third of this 2018 presentation on the Chinese Spatial Information Corridor is devoted to explaining “How the corridor contributes to the space capacity building of developing countries”).

The decision has been made. CASC’s GW (Guo Wang) will be China’s global broadband service provider, and the constellation is tentatively named “Starnet.” (I’ve seen “Guo Wang” written as Guowang and translated as “national grid” and as “national network”). Speaking at one of the two major conferences that review Chinese five-year plans, Bao Weimin, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and director of the CASC Science and Technology Committee, said: “We are planning and developing space Internet satellites and launching experiments. For satellites, the state will also set up a Guo Wang “state grid” company to be responsible for the overall planning and operation of space Internet construction.”

China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035 were adopted this month and, as China space expert Blaine Curcio points out they call for building an integrated communications, Earth observation, and satellite navigation system with global coverage. The Chinese already have navigation and Earth observation satellites, and it sounds like Starnet will be the communication component. Curcio was not surprised by the inclusion of these space goals in the five-year plan since it was foreshadowed by both the Belt and Road Spacial Information Corridor (see the essay beginning on page 19 of this report) and Made in China 2025 initiatives. He also speculated that Hongyan might be responsible for some of the eight Guowang sub-constellations.

Elon Musk has been quoted as saying his goal for Starlink is to avoid bankruptcy and OneWeb’s Sunil Bharti Mittal says that “two satellite constellations in LEO will be enough, perhaps there might be space for three, but definitely not for four.” I don’t know about his prediction, but despite being behind the others—SpaceX is offering service and OneWeb plans to do so next year—Guowang, with the backing of the Chinese government and an edge in Belt and Road nations, seems a pretty safe bet to be around for a long time.

Update Apr 5, 2021:

Here is a link to China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) and here is a non-editable Microsoft tranlation and here is an editable version. If you speak Spanish and can improve the translation, this version is editable. (To make edits, contact me for the password).

Update Apr 30, 2021:

Guowang Starnet will be funded by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC), which according to China-space expert Blaine Curcio, is a major change. Curcio says “the project will have significantly greater autonomy than if it were a sort of subsidiary of CASC/CETC/China Telecom. It is now their equal, a 4th ISP, from space.”

Curico has noted that the Chinese are generally more familiar with our space program than we are with theirs and it seems that this constellation is a response to SpaceX Starlink. Guowang plans 12,992 satellites and SpaceX has authorization for 12,000 and their planned orbits are similar to those of Starlink before they received permission to lower the orbits of many of their satellites earlier this week.

Update May 18, 2021:

The name of this constellation keeps changing. First it was “GW” then “Gwowang”. An article in Axios called the new name “China Star Network” and Asia Times “Starnet.” I asked Blaine Curcio, a Chinese space consultant and co-host of the Dongfang Hour Podcast about the new name and he said he that ???? is the name that will stick. (Type that into Google Translate and you get “China Star Network”). Now he’s written a post calling it “China SatNet.” I will go with that for now, but we need an agreed upon name for search engines. The post also gives brief biographies of the three senior people who will be leading the project.

Update Jun 9, 2021:

Andrew Jones reports that Oriental Space, a new Chinese commercial launch company focused on expendable and reusable launchers, has been formed and is planning on commercial crew flights and eventually planetary exploration. That sounds a lot like a SpaceX clone.

Oriental Space was jointly founded by “a senior aerospace technology team and successful technology entrepreneurs” and has completed a 400 million yuan angel round led by Jingwei and Sequoia China and a host of other companies and entrepreneurs.

This may be the answer to the question “how can Starnet/GwoWang launch 12,992 broadband satellites without hiring SpaceX?”

Update Jul 8, 2021

To compete with SpaceX Starlink, state-owned China Satnet will work with private companies, several of which, LandSpace, Commsat, Galaxy Space, and i-Space, are highlit in this inciteful post.

As with US Cities and States, Chinese municipal and provincial governments often work with companies. China SatNet and the City of Chongqing have signed a cooperation agreement, whereby China SatNet will try to leverage some existing projects and assets in Chongqing. Those existing projects and assets are probably from the planned 320-satellite Hongyan constellation, which seems to have been superseded by SatNet.

For more on locations and local resources that SatNnet is considering, the growing importance of the commercial space sector in China, Chinese awareness of SpaceX Starlink, the importance of Chinese self-sufficiency, and an example of a SatNet application in the Belt and Road infrastructure project check out this segment of the Dongfang Hour podcast.

Update Feb 3, 2022

What’s in a name?

I’ve been inconsistent in trying to figure out what to call GuoWang and China SatNet and Curcio brought some clarity in this article. He says China Satellite Network Corporation Limited, or China SatNet for short, is a high-level, state-owned company with significant autonomy over procurement, administration, and other decisions. It is at the same level of the state-owned enterprise hierarchy as space industry giants CASC and CASIC, as well as the three telcos.

That’s clear and after reading it, I figured GuoWang (国家网络 in Chinese, which Google translates as “national network”) would then be the name of the constellation owned by China SatNet—like Starlink is a constellation owned by SpaceX, but Curcio says that is not the case—“I think right now Guowang remains a nebulous concept of a “Chinese mega constellation”, whereas SatNet is an organization today with subsidiaries focused on satellite applications, equipment, etc. It’s still not clear whether the Guowang constellation would be “owned” by SatNet.

“I guess that reduces GwoWang to a generic term and the title of this post should be “SatNet will be China’s Global Broadband Provider and they will probably own and operate a GuoWang that still has not been named” :-).

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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