Chinese company China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp is set to launch the first satellites in a new low-orbit network next month, competing with Elon Musk's Starlink network. The planned constellation will eventually consist of 300 communications and remote-sensing satellites. China aims to put 192 satellites in orbit by 2027 and 300 by 2030. Unlike Musk's satellite network, which orbits at about 550 kilometers, the Chinese satellites will orbit at an altitude of about 300 to 450 kilometers.
While Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) satellites are at greater risk of being disrupted by the Earth's gravitational pull and require more satellites for connectivity, they are smaller and cheaper to make, less likely to collide with space debris, and provide better connections, according to research. This launch is part of China's ongoing advancements in its space program, which includes the recent launch of its own crewed space station, plans to build a base on the moon, and beating SpaceX and Blue Origin to launch a methane-fueled rocket into orbit. China has also doubled its number of satellites to over 700 since 2019, with a significant portion used for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance.
However, China still lags behind Elon Musk's Starlink constellation. SpaceX currently has more than 5,000 satellites and plans to increase its launch schedule next year. Musk has stated his goal of creating a constellation of 42,000 satellites. SpaceX is preparing for the second launch of its giant Starship rocket, which will be able to carry the new generation of larger Starlink satellites. Musk has made over 1,000 changes to the rocket to prevent a repeat of the explosion that occurred during the first attempt in April.
China's entry into the space race poses a further cause for concern among US defense experts. The country's rapid advancements in its space program and satellite capabilities have raised eyebrows in the US. However, it remains to be seen how China's low-orbit network will compete with Musk's Starlink network and if it will have a significant impact on the space race.