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China Set to Launch First Satellites Forming G60 Starlink Constellation in Early August

China is preparing for the inaugural launch of its ambitious G60 Starlink megaconstellation, a project aiming to deploy over 12,000 satellites into low Earth orbit.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Thu Jun 27 2024Written by Zac Aubert

China is preparing for the inaugural launch of its ambitious G60 Starlink megaconstellation, a project aiming to deploy over 12,000 satellites into low Earth orbit.

The first set of satellites is slated to leave their production facility in Shanghai and head to the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China in the coming days, with the launch scheduled for August 5. This initial mission will carry 18 satellites, and while the launch vehicle has not been officially confirmed, the Long March 6A rocket is the most likely candidate due to its capacity for low Earth orbit missions and suitable payload fairing.

The G60 Starlink constellation is designed to provide global internet access, positioning itself as a competitor to U.S.-based projects like Starlink. Additionally, it aims to secure valuable orbital slots and frequencies, and to ensure national internet coverage and data security for China.

The G60 Starlink project is part of a broader national strategy to advance commercial space development and to foster innovation within high-tech industry clusters, thereby enhancing China's overall space capabilities.

Shanghai Spacecom Satellite Technology (SSST), the company behind the G60 Starlink constellation, announced in February that it had raised 6.7 billion yuan (approximately $943 million) to fund the project. In collaboration with the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IAMCAS), SSST established Shanghai Gesi Aerospace Technology (Genesat) in 2022 to oversee the construction of satellite manufacturing facilities.

The first satellite for the G60 constellation was produced at a state-of-the-art digital satellite production factory in Shanghai’s Songjiang District in December 2023.

Plans indicate that a total of 108 satellites are to be launched throughout 2024, suggesting that five more batches of 18 satellites each will be launched later this year.

While China has also greenlit another megaconstellation named Guowang (SatNet), overseen by the China Satellite Network Group and consisting of 13,000 satellites, the G60 Starlink project seems to be advancing more rapidly, potentially taking the lead in China's megaconstellation efforts.

This commercial space initiative is supported at multiple levels within China. Identified as an “industry of the future,” commercial space was highlighted as a priority in a government work report for the first time in March 2024. Cities and provinces, such as Shanghai, have developed their own commercial space action plans.

Shanghai's objectives include developing next-generation medium and large launch vehicles, intelligent terminals, and enhancing integrated communications, navigation, and remote sensing satellite technologies. The city aims to establish a space information industry valued at over 200 billion yuan ($28.2 billion) by 2025. Similarly, Beijing has set its own targets within the commercial space sector.

To support these ambitious satellite deployment plans, several large and reusable rockets are in development.

The state-owned Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) recently conducted a 12-kilometer-altitude hop test for a reusable launcher expected to debut next year. In the commercial sector, Space Pioneer plans to launch its Tianlong-3 rocket in the near future, and competitor Landspace aims to conduct the first launch of its stainless steel Zhuque-3 rocket next year. Additionally, Shanghai is backing a medium Earth orbit communications project known as Smart Skynet, with the first pair of satellites launched from the Xichang spaceport last month. This project might potentially integrate with the G60 Starlink or Guowang constellations. Furthermore, a subsidiary of Landspace recently filed plans with the International Telecommunication Union for yet another megaconstellation consisting of over 10,000 satellites.

The launch of the first G60 Starlink satellites marks a significant milestone in China's push to become a player in the global space internet industry.