China is fast becoming a major space power as both its technology and launching frequency of satellites are improving at a rapid rate. China has launched more satellites than any other country in 2020 as of Sept. 30, according to a report by Bryce Space and Technology. China has conducted the greatest number of space launches in 2018 and 2019, and last year (2020) it has already launched 36 space vehicles out of a planned 40. This puts China on track to win the space launch-rate race three years in a row. In fact, SpaceX, with 15 total launches, is second only to China’s state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which has sent 25 rockets into space, as the most active launch provider so far this year, Bryce has found.
China became the world’s fifth country to send a satellite into space in 1970. Since 2010, the country has continuously increased its number and frequency of satellite launchings. China broke a record in 2018 by conducting 39 launch missions, ranking the first in the world and accounting for one-third of all launches worldwide, it said. The year 2018 marks out China as a leader, not a follower, in international space exploration, said Wang Chi, director of the National Space Science Center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The country has also suffered four failures. Inaugural launches of the Long March 7A and the Expace Kuaizhou-11 failed, while an issue with the workhorse Long March 3B led to the loss of the Indonesian Palapa-N1 communications satellite. Most recently Sept. 12 saw the loss of a Kuaizhou-1A rocket and a commercial remote sensing satellite.
SOURCE: Breaking Defense graphic from Bryce Space and Technology data
It is reported to have about 280 satellites currently in space against India’s 54 until November last, according to World Economic Forum Data. With 830 satellites in space, US leads the satellite race. However in terms of wet launch mass the United States has sent more than double China’s tonnage into a variety of orbits. The study, How is China Advancing its Space Launch Capabilities, note that: “Although China has made great strides in developing its capabilities, its overall launch and payload tallies lag those of more established space powers like the US.”
China has exported 11 satellites to nine countries, including Bolivia, Nigeria and Laos, statistics from Great Wall Industry show. China Great Wall Industry Corp, the nation’s only authorized firm for international space collaboration, will launch Venezuela’s second remote sensing satellite next year and Pakistan’s first remote sensing satellite in 2018, said Fu Zhiheng, vice-president of Great Wall Industry. The two satellites are being developed by the China Academy of Space Technology,” Fu said on the sidelines of an international forum in Beijing.
With Beijing’s assistance, Ethiopia is heading to space in just under a year. The Horn of Africa nation announced it would launch its first earth observatory satellite in Sept. 2019, with China footing much of the bill. Officials from both governments’ space agencies met both in August and November (in Amharic) to advance talks on technological transfer and sign cooperative agreements on space activities. Once launched, Addis Ababa says it will utilize it to collect data on changes in climate and weather-related phenomena.
Fu said that Chinese satellites have become popular among developing countries for two reasons: First, they are as reliable as Western models; and second, Great Wall Industry is able to provide solution packages to developing countries covering design, launch, operation and training
Remote sensing satellites
A Chinese Long March 11 rocket successfully launched five new remote-sensing satellites in Sept. 2019. Those satellites will join a commercial satellite constellation built and operated by the Chinese company Zhuhai Orbita Aerospace Science and Technology Co., Ltd. That constellation, called Zhuhai-1, will ultimately consist of 34 small satellites, including video, hyperspectral, and high-resolution optical satellites, as well as radar and infrared satellites, according to China’s state-run Xinhuanet news agency.
China launched Haiyang 1C ( HY-1C), a marine satellite on 7th Sep 2018 to enhance understanding of maritime waters and study the impact of climate change. HY-1C can detect cholorophyll, suspended sediment concentrations and disolved organic matter, which can affect ocean color, as welll as temperatures on the sea surface. This satellite can also be used for tracking ship movements. China had earlier launched three marine obdervation satellites : Haiyang 1A in 2002, Haiyang 1B in 2007, and Haiyang 2A , the first in a new line of spacecraft with different oceonography instruments, in 2011.
China’s southern island province of Hainan has unveiled a satellite launch plan to assist remote sensing coverage over the South China Sea. The Sanyan Institute of Remote Sensing said the mission would start in 2019, when it would launch three optical satellites. After that, it will add another three optical satellites, two hyperspectral satellites and two SAR satellites to complete the Satellite Constellation Program by 2021, for conducting round-the-clock remote-sensing over the tropical sea area. Yang Tianliang, director of the institute, said that the network was calculated to broadly cover the area between 30 degrees north and south of the equator. Yang said the program would provide scientific support for China’s initiative of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and emergency response efforts at sea.
Zhongxing-9A is another planned summer comms sat launch, which will see the DFH-4 bus based ku-band satellite sent to 92° E in geostationary orbit on a Long March 3B/E from Xichang. China aims to use DFH-4 and -5 satellite platforms to make the internet available in aircraft cabins, high speed trains and even remote mountainous areas by 2025. In August 2020, the Gaofen-7 optical Earth observation satellite was put into service, representing significant progress for China’s surveying and mapping capabilities. It can provide 1:10,000 scale satellite 3D mapping for users.
Chinese latest Reconnaissance Satellites with sub meter resolution
China launcjed Gaofen 14 in Dec 2020, an optical surveying and mapping satellite designed to gather global three-dimensional, stereo imagery, according to CASC. The spacecraft will collect imagery to produce large-scale digital topographic maps and digital elevation models, officials said. The new satellite is part of the CHEOS fleet, a program comprising optical and radar imaging spacecraft. Authorities have published high-resolution imagery taken by previous Gaofen satellites, suggesting the program has at least a partial civilian purpose.
China launches fifth Gaofen-9 series Earth observation satellite in August 2020. Gaofen satellites are nominally part of the civilian China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS). Land surveying, urban planning, road network design, agriculture and disaster relief are noted as the major uses of Gaofen satellites, according to Chinese media. The program was initiated in 2010 to provide all-weather, all-day coverage with optical and synthetic aperture radar satellites. CHEOS may also include airborne and near-space systems such as stratospheric balloons.
A Chinese Earth-observation satellite launched on 31 July 2018 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre may be capable of achieving ground-image resolution of 10 cm or less. If confirmed, this would give China a satellite-imaging capability second only to the United States and possibly comparable to the maximum resolution provided by US imaging satellites.
China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency reported that the Gaofen 11 satellite is an “optical remote-sensing satellite” that was carried aloft by a Long March 4B rocket “as part of the country’s high-resolution Earth observation project”. An article in the Science & Technology Daily , the news outlet of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, noted that the satellite’s ground resolution was “at the sub-metre level”. Analysis of this image published on the website SatelliteObservation.net compared the size of the satellite body with the known diameter of the third-stage module and concluded that the mirror lens is around 1.7 m across. The satellite has been placed in an elliptical near-polar orbit, which gives it an altitude of 693 km at its apogee and 247 km at its perigee, which occurs at 10:00 h local time at latitude 20° N -– such as when passing over the South China Sea, India, or Hawaii.
China launched a pair of 0.5-meter high-resolution remote sensing satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province in Dec 2016. The satellites, SuperView-1 01/02, blasted off on the back of a Long March 2D rocket, according to the center. They are able to provide commercial images at 0.5-meter resolution.
China in Dec 2015 launched its most sophisticated observation satellite, Gaofen-4, as part of the country’s high-definition (HD) earth observation project. Gaofen-4 is China’s first geosynchronous orbit HD optical imaging satellite and the world’s most sophisticated HD geosynchronous orbit remote sensing satellite, according to Xu Dazhe, head of SASTIND and China National Space Administration. Using geostationary satellite platforms allows for the continuous, long-term surveillance of target areas, obtaining intelligence in real-time.
The Gaofen project aims to launch seven high-definition observation satellites before 2020. Gaofen-1, the first satellite of the project, was launched in April 2013. Different from Gaofen-1 and Gaofen-2 in low orbits (600-700 km) around the earth, Gaofen-4 is located at the orbit 36,000 kilometers away from the earth and moves synchronously with the earth.
It can “see” an oil tanker on the sea with a huge CMOS camera, reaching the best imaging level among global high-orbit remote sensing satellites, according to Li Guo, chief designer of Gaofen-4. Gaofen-2 launched in 2014, became China’s first satellite capable of sub-meter resolution imaging. High resolution is important for intelligence analysis— One-meter imagery is sufficient to identify ships, aircraft, and armored vehicles.
In addition, China’s commercial Jilin satellite system also indicates the emergence of China’s Precision Global Strike capabilities. The Jilin-1 group of satellites consists of 4 satellites: one 450-kg major satellite with a resolution ratio of 0.72 metres, two dexterous image taking satellites with a resolution ratio of 1.3 metres and one checking satellite with dexterous image taking.
China launched three remote sensing satellites In Nov 2017, designed to improve observation capability to promote commercial use for the remote sensing industry, authorities said. The three satellites — Jilin-1 04, Jilin-1 05 and Jilin-1 06 — were launched from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in Shanxi province, reports Xinhua news agency
Chinese sources say that by 2030 there will be 138 satellites in the Jilin satellite system with a return visit speed of 10 minutes. It is expected that the satellites will become smaller with higher resolution. The PLA will use that satellite system to help its intercontinental PGS system update its targets.
The Electro-optical devices like cameras and infrared sensors that generally observe only one band in the electromagnetic spectrum, i.e. cameras observe the band visible to human eyesight and infrared cameras view the infrared band. However, Hyperspectral remote sensing sensors have the ability to a view hundreds of electromagnetic bands for a single image, in many narrow spectral bands from visible, near infrared, medium infrared to thermal infrared. Hyperspectral sensors capture energy in 200 bands or more which means that they continuously cover the reflecting spectrum for each pixel in the scene. Bands characteristic for these types of sensors are continuous and narrow, allowing an indepth examination of features and details on Earth.
Hyperspectral imaging technology could theoretically be applied in a number of sectors including vegetation identification (agriculture), mineral detection and the assessment of polluted waters in oceans, coastal zones and inland waterways. The technology could also be used for space exploration missions. China has deployed a hyperspectral camera for use on previous lunar missions, during which it produced one of the largest and most detailed maps of mineral distribution on the surface of the moon to date.
Hyperspectral imaging have ability to observe objects which conceal their emissions in one part of the spectrum like stealth aircraft and thermally suppressed engines or are hidden (such as underground bunkers). Therefore Hyperspectral satellites are capable to locate and track military targets that are usually camouflaged or hidden underground, such as missile launch sites and testing facilities for nuclear weapons.
They can be a valuable tool for finding submarines and underwater mines in shallow waters. On land, they can determine the actual composition of objects to distinguish decoys (hyperspectral imaging can capture the differences in EM signature of a wooden decoy versus an actual missile launcher). In the air, hyperspectral sensors can passively detect even thermally shielded stealth aircraft. For counter-WMD missions, hyperspectral imaging can be used to detect nuclear and chemical weapons production, as well as locating the underground tunnels and bunkers that would house those strategic assets.
A key in this program is the China Commercial Remote-sensing Satellite System (CCRSS), to be launched later this year. It can collect data on 328 electromagnetic bands, offering very high resolution of up to 15 meters, according to the researchers from the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth in Beijing. This means each pixel in the image measures 15 metres squared.
In comparison, the U.S. TacSat 3, launched in 2010, collect data on 300 electromagnetic bands, though at a higher resolution of 4 meters. The Artemis sensors first tested on the TacSat-3 satellite can collect data on 300 electromagnetic bands, thus allowing its user, the US Strategic Command, to operate it for tactical purposes ranging from the detection of roadside bombs to the identification of nuclear weapon facilities.
In Sep 2020, China launched the medium-resolution environment HJ-2A and HJ-2B monitoring satellites are equipped with 16-meter multispectral, 48-meter hyperspectral and infrared imagers. Both also carry atmospheric correction instruments. The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the main satellite developer under CASC, developed the pair.
The new satellites replace HJ-1A and HJ-1B launched in 2008. Chinese media report that the satellites will monitor land and water resources and disasters, and serve the industries of agriculture and forestry. The satellites were later cataloged in a 600 by 654-kilometer orbits inclined by 98 degrees. The rocket third stage was in a 428 by 656-kilometer orbit.
In Sep 2021, China launched the 24th Gaofen-series Earth-observation satellite in a bid to monitor environmental protection efforts and boost its natural resources surveillance. Gaofen-5 02 is a hyperspectral satellite that will be used for comprehensive environmental monitoring, to improve the country’s hyperspectral observation capacity of the atmosphere, water and land.
This so-called sun-synchronous orbit means the satellite will pass the same point on Earth at the same local time each day. Gaofen 5 (02) — the second of two identical Gaofen 5 satellites — was developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), one of the major arms of CASC. The satellite is based on a SAST3000 platform and carries seven instruments for hyperspectral monitoring of the atmosphere, water and land.
China launched Gaofen 3 Earth observation satellite on August 9 from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday (10 August 16) that will help the country protect its maritime interests, especially amid rising tensions in the South China Sea. The satellite carries a synthetic aperture radar payload that can produce images with a resolution of one meter.
Meanwhile, Liu Jie, Gaofen 3’s chief designer at the China Academy of Space Technology, reportedly said that the satellite is “the best of its kind in the world in terms of technological level and imaging mode”. The satellite has 12 imaging modes that enable it to take wide pictures of Earth as well as specific areas in detail.
“The satellite will play an important role in monitoring the marine environment, islands and reefs, and ships and oil rigs,” Xu Fuxiang, head of the Gaofen 3 project at the academy, was quoted as saying by the China Daily. He added that considering China’s total coastline of 32,000km – 380,000 sq km of territorial seas and more than 6,500 islands that have an area of at least 500 sq mt – the Gaofen 3 will prove to be a boon in “safeguarding the country’s maritime rights and interests”. China will now also rely heavily on the Gaofen 3 for forecasting natural disasters, assessment and relief, Xu added.
The Chinese have launched the Yaogan-30 remote sensing satellite via a Long March (Chang Zheng) 2D (Y27) rocket in May 2016. Yaogan-30 is probably an electro-optical observation satellite based on the military Jianbing-6 series. High-resolution radar imagery satellites shall provide all-weather as well as day and night imaging capabilities over the regions of interest. They would also provide the capability to able to see through clouds and unmask decoys.
Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites are very useful in maritime surveillance, thanks to their wide swath, which can reach several hundred kilometers. This enables them to find ships, given a very rough idea of where they might be, in any weather. However, the wide swaths modes of such a system generally have a low resolution, measured in the tens of meters. This makes ship identification difficult. Consequently, a higher-resolution system, or another pass of the same satellite but in high-resolution mode, are needed. Ship motion can severely limit the image quality in high-resolution modes. They could have capability for ship detection using special algorithms for detecting the ships themselves as well as their wakes.
The country has initially established a complete satellite communication system which can reach 80 percent of the world. The system guarantees communication for Belt and Road countries. In addition to international cooperation on satellite launching, China has now signed 80 export agreements with 26 countries and regions.
China’s first high-throughput communications satellite Shijian-13 was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province in April 2017. Shijian denotes a diverse series of experimental satellites, and Shijian-13 will test advanced ion propulsion that will cut the need for propellant, saving liftoff mass and mission lifetime. The 4.6 tonne Shijian-13 is based on the DFH-4 satellite platform and will also conduct space-to-ground laser communications experiments. Wang Min, deputy chief designer at China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), says SJ-13 will be the country’s first high-throughput satellite (HTS), with a capacity of 20gb per second, making it by far the country’s fastest.
China launched its first high-capacity broadband satellite communication technology test satellite 3 (Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing-3), or TJS-3, on Dec 25 2018, to begin satellite communications services by 2019, according to the satellite system’s blueprint. Reporting on the TJS-1 satellite, developed by the China Academy of Space Technology, stated it would test Ka-Band frequency broadband communications.
A new company, APT Mobile SatCom Limited (APSTAR), was also unveiled. Cheng Guangren, president of APSTAR and also an expert on communications satellites, said the company will launch two more high-capacity broadband satellites to serve in the Americas, Europe and Africa, creating a global broadband satellite communications system by 2020.
“With the help of high-capacity broadband satellites, we can now offer better service in remote areas, in the air and on the sea where there used to be no communications services,” Cheng was quoted as saying. High-capacity broadband military satellites are required to satisfy the high bandwidth requirements of future PLA’s network-centric operations.
When it is complete, China’s global communications system will offer a continuous, reliable and autonomous service that supports the Belt and Road Initiative as well as other overseas development projects, the CASC post explained. (People’s Daily Online)
In 2015, five new communications satellites including the APSTAR-9, ChinaSat 1C, Zhongxing-2C, Zhongxing-1C and LaoSat-1 were put into orbits successfully. Zhongxing-1C, the second of a new series of military communications satellites, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. Little is known about the satellite applications due its military nature. Previous satellites in the class are believed to have been designed for military communications, providing secure voice and data communication for the People’s Liberation Army.
Zhongxing-1C, or ChinaSat-1C, will have been equipped with a range of C, Ku, Ka and L band transponders. The satellite is based on a DFH-4 satellite platform developed by the China Academy of Space Technology. It is expected to orbit at an altitude of around 35,800 kilometres for 15 years.
China launched the world’s first 6G satellite into space in Nov 2020 to test first 6G frequency band in space. The satellite is named after the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and will serve to test out the performance of the 6G frequency band in space. 6G is expected to be over 100 times faster than 5G which is already expected to be ultra-fast. This is because it uses high-frequency terahertz waves to achieve impressive data-transmission speeds. In addition, the novel satellite also features technology that will be used for crop disaster monitoring and forest fire prevention.
China launched two test payloads in August 2020, for a planned constellation of internet satellites, a step that could lead to launches of thousands more Chinese spacecraft to match similar commercial networks already being deployed by SpaceX and OneWeb. China is planning to launch a constellation of up to 13,000 satellites to provide global internet connectivity, according to regulatory filings with the International Telecommunication Union.
In a sign that China is making plans for the large-scale deployment of a satellite constellation, the Long March 2C rocket launched Tuesday debuted a new 13.8-foot-diameter (4.2-meter) payload fairing. The nose shroud is wider than fairings flown on past Long March 2C rockets, giving each launcher a larger payload volume to accommodate more satellites on a single mission. The Long March 2C rocket also launched with a tube-shaped multi-satellite adapter structure inside its payload fairing. On future missions, the support tube will have mounting points for multiple spacecraft, similar to mechanisms used by OneWeb and other companies to deploy numerous satellites.
Beidou Navigation Satellite Constellation Launched Successfully
China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) has offered global coverage with 35 Beidou navigation satellites in 2020. Twenty four satellites in medium Earth orbits (at around 21,500 kilometers above the Earth) provide positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) services. The satellites use rubidium and hydrogen atomic clocks for highly-accurate timing that allows precise measurement of speed and location. Additionally, thanks to a number of satellites in geosynchronous orbits, Beidou provides a short messaging service through which 120-character messages can be sent to other Beidou receivers. Beidou also aids international search and rescue services. Vessels at sea will be able to seek help from nearby ships in case of emergency despite no cellphone signal.
China completed Beidou in June after development began in 1994. The first Beidou satellites were launched in 2000, providing coverage to China. Second generation Beidou-2 satellites provided coverage for the Asia-Pacific region starting in 2012. Deployment of Beidou-3 satellites began in 2015, with Tuesday’s launch being the 30th such satellite. But this is far from the end of the line. China wants to establish a ‘ubiquitous, integrated and intelligent and comprehensive’ national PNT system, with Beidou as its core, by 2035, according to a white paper.
The services cover the area between 55 degrees north latitude and 55 degrees south latitude and between 55 and 180 degrees east longitude, with a positioning accuracy of less than 10 meters, a velocity measurement accuracy of less than 0.2 meters per second and a timing accuracy of less than 50 nanoseconds. Beidou Satellites similar to GPS spacecraft shall allow PLA troops to navigate trackless desert, guide munitions with pinpoint accuracy, and allowing for the bombing of enemy targets with minimal collateral damage.
The network will be dual use: a free service for civilians, and a licensed service for the Chinese government and military.
The civilian service will provide an accuracy of about 33 feet (10 meters) in the user position, 0.45 mph (0.2 m/s) on the user velocity, and 50 nanoseconds in time accuracy. The restricted military and authorized users’ service will provide higher tracking accuracies of 0.33 feet (0.1 meters).
China has successfully sent twin BeiDou satellites into space by a Long March-3B launch vehicle from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, at 02:07 am, on Nov. 19. The twins, both medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites, are the 42nd and 43rd of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), and the 18th and 19th of the BeiDou-3 family. The successful launch marks that the basic BDS-3 constellation has successfully been deployed. China plans to launch another 11 BDS-3 satellites in the coming two years.
Weather and Space Weather satellites
China has launched a total of 14 satellites for monitoring the weather. Seven of these satellites are polar orbiting satellites and seven of them are GSO based satellites. Though necessary for military operations these serve primarily a civilian public good function. They are therefore excluded from being accounted under the military head.
The country launched the first of China’s second-generation weather satellites Fengyun-4 in geostationary orbit, also the country’s first quantitative remote-sensing satellite in high orbit. The satellite will make high time, spatial and spectral resolution observations of the atmosphere, clouds and space environment of China and surrounding regions, significantly improving capabilities of weather and climate forecasts, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. The China Meteorological Administration is the primary user of the satellite. According to the media outlet, Fengyun-4 is capable of monitoring atmosphere continuously, helping to improve the quality of weather forecasts and prevent catastrophic consequences of natural disasters. China has sent 14 meteorological satellites into space, of which seven are still active.
The US Air Force also plans to launch its Weather Satellite Follow-on program beginning in 2022 and with a replacement satellite launching about every five years thereafter. The Defense Department’s needs include information on cloud characterization, snow depth, soil moisture, and sea ice characterization among others. A Pentagon acquisition review board shall decide the best path forward for two of the highest priority gap: cloud characterization and theater weather imagery. That decision will also shape the Defense Department’s long-term strategy.
China sent two satellites for the detection of gravitational waves into planned orbit in Dec 2020. The two satellites, which compose the Gravitational Wave High-energy Electromagnetic Counterpart All-sky Monitor (GECAM) mission, were launched by a Long March-11 carrier rocket at 4:14 a.m. (Beijing Time), according to the center.
The GECAM satellites will be used to monitor high-energy celestial phenomena such as gravitational wave gamma-ray bursts, high-energy radiation of fast radio bursts, special gamma-ray bursts and magnetar bursts, and to study neutron stars, black holes and other compact objects and their merger processes. In addition, they will also detect high-energy radiation phenomena in space, such as solar flares, Earth gamma flashes and Earth electron beams, providing observation data for scientists.
China launched its Shiyan-6 Earth observation satellite, along with four nanosatellites in Nov 2018. Shiyan-6 will be used for conducting space environment exploration experiments.
China plans to launch two more meteorological satellites in 2021, said sources with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. One of the planned satellites is called Fengyun-3E (FY-3E). It will be the fifth member of the country’s Fengyun-3 series of satellites in polar orbit and the world’s first meteorological satellite in dawn-dusk orbit. A dawn-dusk orbit is a sun-synchronous orbit in which the satellite tracks but never moves into the Earth’s shadow. Since the satellite is close to the shadow, the part of Earth the satellite is directly above is always at sunset or sunrise, giving the orbit its name.
Data relay satellites
Tianlian satellites are China’s data tracking and relay communication satellites that fly in the geostationary orbit. They are mainly tasked to provide data relay, measurements and control, and transmission services for the in-orbit spacecraft on a global scale. A highly stable and reliable information link between the satellites and the Wenchang Space Launch Center has been built, the team noted.
China has successfully launched its fourth data satellite to achieve global network operation that will provide data relay, measurement and control services for its manned spacecraft. The satellite, Tianlian I-04, was launched on a Long March-3C carrier rocket in Nov 2016 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwest Sichuan province Wednesday night, state-run Xinhua quoted officials of the centre as saying. Developed by the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the satellite will join its three predecessors to achieve global network operation.
The network is expected to provide data relay, measurement and control services for China’s manned spacecraft, space labs and space stations, according to the centre. The network will also offer data relay services for the country’s medium- and low-Earth orbiting resources satellites, as well as measurement and control support for spacecraft launches. China launched its first data relay satellite, the Tianlian I-01, in April 2008
Data relay satellites are essential for military space architecture. Data relay satellites are special satellites that support reconnaissance by receiving signals from a reconnaissance satellite when it was out of range of a ground station and then relaying them back to China. Some sources say China plans to orbit two geo-stationary data relay satellites to support its other space sensor and military communications programs. These satellites reportedly form part of a larger command, control and intelligence effort being undertaken by the PLA.
Strategic Early Early Warning
The Chinese military uses a network of large phased array radars (LPAR) for early warning. This network, which appears to have been in place by the early 2000s, represent a modernization of the first early warning network of 7010 and 110 radars set up in the late 1960s to assist with missile instrumentation and space tracking. As with the other components of its ground segment, China appears to be moving toward space-based platforms. Russia has recently committed to supporting Chinese modernization of this system. In 2016 S&T Daily confirmed that China had built space-based constellation of infrared early warning satellites called the “Outpost”.
The ground segment, particularly Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C) stations, provide a vital service in downlinking data and monitoring satellites’ orbits. These stations and the control centers also help satellites respond to emergencies such as solar events (which can harm satellites or degrade communications with their ground stations) or regain control if they fall out of communication. China’s network of ground stations domestically and abroad and its fleet of space tracking and military support vessels are a less obvious but important player supporting the launches of new satellites, maintaining the accuracy of its PNT constellations and downlinking data from its
growing constellations of remote sensing satellites.
Ground segments also play a crucial role in modern military applications, controlling and downlinking data from remote sensing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) satellites, and maintaining operation of Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) satellites, which make up Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), Galileo, GLONASS or
Many components of this ground segment are involved in providing Space Situational Awareness (SSA). From avoiding detection by enemy satellites to maintaining communications with key data-relay satellites, SSA will be an important factor in a country’s ability to prosecute
and win wars in the future. Military early warning radars which scan the skies for incoming missiles also provide information on objects in low earth orbit such as satellites and debris.
While the development of a global network of ground stations has opened doors for international cooperation, it does not come without risks. Access to stations abroad is contingent upon host-nations’ permission, and often features language restricting their use for military purposes. In a conflict, China can expect access to these stations be further restricted, either by the host country or due to international pressure. Therefore, while these stations offer important new capabilities and flexibility, they do not resolve the longer issue of reliable access. As a result, China is investing heavily in communications and relay satellites as well as a large network of domestic and international ground stations.
Space based Infrastructure
Another leg of the space-based infrastructure is a space-based Internet of Things (IoT). On May 12, 2020, China launched the latest group of satellites of the Xingyun or “Moving Cloud” Project [行云工程], a planned constellation of 80 communication satellites in low earth orbit that
will provide global IoT connectivity. The two satellites Xingyun 2-01 and Xingyun 2-02, are testing inter-satellite laser communications as well as ground-connections with IoT devices.
In August 2020, the first two satellites of the Xinyun-2 Internet-of-things project successfully conducted inter-satellite laser datalink.
At the same time, other smaller constellations of large high-throughput satellites (HTS) such as the SJ-20 [实践二十号] testbed launched in December.55 HTS Satellites offer significant increases in transmission capacity compared to other communication satellites.
There are additional, physical reasons to move components of the ground segment into space. Space-based SSA offers several important advantages compared to ground-based systems. While satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) and optical systems used to identify debris are restricted to hours when the sun can reflect off the objects, but the sky is dark enough to image effectively. Optical and laser systems in orbit can operate 24/7. As a result, this appears to be the direction that both the United States and China have identified as optimal for space tracking duties. It is worth noting that while China has yet to field such a system, Boeing launched the first component of the SpaceBased Space Surveillance (SBSS), which tracks space objects from deep space to low Earth orbit in 2010. The US Air Force declared the SBSS fully operational in April 2013.
China’s Dual use programs
China is determined to replace the U.S. as the dominant power in space. While proclaiming its peaceful intentions, Beijing’s doctrine considers space a military domain, and it is investing heavily in space infrastructure designed to secure both economic and military advantages. Its ambitious space programme is under the control of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), therefore most of its space projects are dual use projects.
A Swedish defence agency has warned that the country is facing a growing security challenge from China, saying one of its satellite stations could be serving the Chinese military. The Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), under the Ministry of Defence, in Jan 2019 told broadcaster SVT that the nominally civilian cooperation with China could ultimately be controlled by the military.
FOI researchers alleged that China could be using the station – which relays images of the artic regions – to complement military intelligence or provide additional military satellite surveillance should Chinese military satellites be disabled in a time of war. “Organisationally, the Chinese space programme is to a very, very large extent militarised,” John Rydqvist, one of the researchers, said. The station plays a role in China’s Gaofen satellite project – a network of observation satellites that provide China with global surveillance capabilities.
Officially known as the China Remote Sensing Satellite North Polar Ground Station, the Kiruna facility took two years to build and is China’s “first overseas land satellite receiving station”, according to Chinese government websites. It was built and is run by the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth (RADI) to “improve China’s capability of acquiring global remote sensing data efficiently”, according to the RADI website. The institute is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a government organisation with no explicit ties to the military.
ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) satellite
ELINT satellites provide the detection and identification of radar signals emitted by ships and thus provide the cues to the EO and SAR satellites to track ships in the oceans that could threaten China’s core interests. They are backbone space component of China’s Anti Access and Area Denial strategy. China’s ELINT programme has evolved considerably since the launch of its first satellite in 1970.
The three Yaogan 30-type satellites lifted off aboard the Long March 2C rocket in Oct 2020 from the Xichang space center in the Sichuan province of southwestern China. The satellites are the seventh triplet of Yaogan 30-type spacecraft since 2017 launched on Long March 2C rockets from the Xichang facility into similar orbits. The three Yaogan 30-07 satellites launched Monday are designed for remote sensing of the “electromagnetic environment” from their orbit 370 miles above Earth, Xinhua said. The Chinese government uses the Yaogan name for the country’s military satellites, and the Yaogan 30 family is believed to be designed for a signals intelligence mission. Some analysts suggested the Yaogan 30 family of satellites could be testing new electronic eavesdropping equipment, or helping the Chinese military track U.S. and other foreign naval deployments. But details about the spacecraft and their missions have not been disclosed by the Chinese government.
In March 2010 China placed its first triplet of ELINT satellites into an 1100 Km, 63.4 degree inclination orbit. Its orbit characteristics make it very similar to the early US Ocean Surveillance System. China appears to have at least three operational Yaogan ELINT clusters (they have launched five triplet clusters since 2010) at any given point in time.
China appears to now replace its three-satellite Yaogan ELINT cluster with a two satellite cluster like the US. Shijian-16-01 is the first of a new series that will succeed the Shijian-6 series that consists of four pairs with two satellites each. The Shijian-6 satellites were launched between 2004 and 2010. The second in the first pair of Shijian-16 signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronics intelligence (ELINT) spy satellites designed to spy mainly on the United States military in Asia has now reached its inclined orbit 600 kilometers above the Equator.
Shijian-16-02 joins its sister satellite, Shijian-16-01, launched in October 2015 in the same orbit. The orbit of both spysats inclined 75 degrees to the Equator is an unusual orbit that makes it easier for both spysats to intercept encrypted signals from the US military. These intercepted electronic signals will then be analyzed and decoded by Chinese.
Yaogan Satellites part of Chinese system to guide their antiship ballistic missiles
Yaogan series satellites are often described by Chinese state media as providing remote sensing for land resources and electromagnetic environment detection, but are perceived by Western observers to be designed for reconnaissance purposes for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
According to western specialists Chinese Yaogan satellites belong to ELINT constellation which covers both SAR and imaging satellites. SAR spacecrafts belonging to ELINT constellation are able to cover with range of their radars up to 3500 km and are designated for tracking groups of aircraft carriers. Earlier, China had successfully deployed its latest military spy satellites Yaogan-31 in Dec 2017, Yaogan 30 in May 2016 , Yaogan 28, Yaogan 29 in polar orbit in Nov 2015, and identified only as a remote sensing satellite by Chinese state media.
Yaogan 23, Yaogan 29, Yaogan 10, Yaogan 18, Yaogan 14 and Yaogan 21 also are the current operational satellites carrying a SAR sensor. Synthetic Aperture Radar carrying satellites that are cued by the ELINT satellites or by other satellites in the constellation that have located the object of interest. Yaogan 30, Yaogan 26, Yaogan 24, Yaogan 28, Yaogan 7 and Yaogan 21 constitute the high resolution optical satellites in current configuration with resolutions reported to be between 1-3 meters. Electro-optical satellites that are cued by the ELINT satellites or by other satellites in the constellation that had located the aircraft carrier earlier.
Yaogan 9 (Yaogan 9A, 9B, 9C), Yaogan 16 (16A, 16B, 16C), Yaogan 17 (17A, 17B, 17C), Yaogan 20 (20A, 20B, 20C) and Yaogan25 (25A, 25B, 25C) are the five triplet cluster equipped with ELINT sensors. A three satellite TDOA [system] for geo-location has the advantages of high precision, broad-area coverage, and long-surveillance times. It is very suitable for ocean surveillance, for example in [conducting] continuous surveillance against aircraft carrier groups, and submarines. It enables real time understanding of the threats coming from the sea.
Reports have suggested that Yaoan series along with their Over the horizon radars form a operational system that can identify, locate, track and destroy an Aircraft carrier by guiding their Anti Ship ballistic Missiles.