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China’s Rapid Rise as a Global Space Power: The Largest Commercial and Military Satellite Launches

China has emerged as a global space power with the largest number of commercial and military satellite launches in recent years. The country has made significant progress in the field of space technology and has demonstrated its capabilities by launching a wide range of satellites for various purposes.

 

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.

 

China is fast becoming a major space power as both its technology and the launching frequency of satellites are improving at a rapid rate. In 2020 alone, China launched a total of 39 satellites, surpassing the United States and Russia in terms of the number of launches. Out of these, 29 were commercial satellites, which were launched by the Long March series of rockets. These satellites were used for applications such as remote sensing, communications, and navigation. The remaining ten satellites were used for military purposes, including reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.

 

In 2022, China launched a record 55 satellites, including the Tiangong space station, which is now fully operational. China’s space program has been growing rapidly in recent years, thanks to the country’s investment in space technology and its ambitious plans for space exploration.

 

The Tiangong space station is a modular space station that is being built by China. The station was completed in 2022 and will be the largest space station in orbit. The Tiangong space station will be used for a variety of purposes, including scientific research, crewed space exploration, and commercial space activities.  China is also planning to send a crewed mission to the moon in 2023. China’s space program is now one of the most advanced in the world, and the country is poised to play a leading role in the future of space exploration.

 

Remote sensing satellites

China has been making significant strides in the development of remote sensing technology, with a focus on using satellites to collect and process data for a wide range of applications. In recent years, China has launched several advanced remote sensing satellites that have the capability to provide high-resolution imaging and other data to support scientific research, environmental monitoring, disaster response, and national security.

China’s first remote sensing satellite, the Haiyang 1, was launched in 1988. Since then, China has launched over 100 remote sensing satellites, including the Fengyun series of weather satellites, the Gaofen series of high-resolution Earth observation satellites, and the Yaogan series of experimental satellites.

The Gaofen-3 series: The Gaofen-3 series is a constellation of high-resolution Earth observation satellites. The first satellite in the series, Gaofen-3A, was launched in 2016. Gaofen-3A has a spatial resolution of 0.8 meters, and it is used for a variety of applications, including land use planning, disaster monitoring, and environmental protection.

One of China’s most advanced remote sensing satellites is the Gaofen-7, which was launched in 2019. The satellite has a sub-meter resolution camera that can capture detailed images of the Earth’s surface, making it useful for a variety of applications such as land use monitoring, urban planning, and natural resource management. In addition, the Gaofen-7 has a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) that can penetrate cloud cover and collect data in all weather conditions. This makes it valuable for disaster response and military surveillance applications.

Another advanced remote sensing satellite launched by China is the Gaofen-9, which has a multi-spectral camera that can capture images in multiple wavelengths, including visible light, near-infrared, and shortwave infrared. This allows for more accurate analysis of vegetation, water resources, and other environmental factors. The Gaofen-9 also has a wide swath width, allowing it to cover a large area in a single pass, making it useful for disaster response and emergency mapping.

The Yaogan series: The Yaogan series is a series of experimental satellites that are used to test new technologies for remote sensing. The Yaogan satellites have been used to test new sensors, new imaging techniques, and new data transmission systems.

The Ziyuan series: The Ziyuan series is a series of commercial remote sensing satellites. The Ziyuan satellites are used for a variety of applications, including agriculture, forestry, and mining.

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.

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.

China’s advanced remote sensing satellites have also been used for scientific research, such as monitoring the effects of climate change and studying the Earth’s atmosphere. In addition, the satellites have been used to support national security and military applications, such as border surveillance and intelligence gathering.

In conclusion, China’s recent advancements in remote sensing technology and the launch of advanced remote sensing satellites have significantly enhanced the country’s capabilities in a range of applications. With the continued development of this technology, China is likely to play an increasingly important role in the global remote sensing industry and contribute to scientific research, disaster response, and national security efforts around the world.

 

Hyperspectral satellites

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.

 

China has been rapidly developing its remote sensing capabilities, with a focus on advanced hyperspectral satellite technology. Hyperspectral imaging involves capturing data across multiple narrow and contiguous spectral bands, which allows for more precise and detailed analysis of the earth’s surface. China has launched several advanced hyperspectral satellites in recent years, which have the potential to significantly enhance the country’s capabilities in a range of applications.

One of China’s most advanced hyperspectral satellites is the Huanjing-1A, which was launched in 2020. The satellite has 256 spectral bands, which provides much higher spectral resolution than previous hyperspectral satellites. The Huanjing-1A is capable of collecting data in the visible to shortwave infrared spectrum, making it valuable for applications such as mineral exploration, crop management, and environmental monitoring. The satellite’s high spatial resolution also allows for detailed mapping of features on the earth’s surface.

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.

China has also launched the GF-5 satellite, which has a hyperspectral imager that covers the visible to shortwave infrared spectrum. The satellite has a spatial resolution of 8 meters and a swath width of 80 kilometers, making it useful for large-scale environmental monitoring, crop yield estimation, and urban planning. The GF-5 has been used to monitor the impacts of natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, as well as to support agricultural production and land use management.

Another advanced hyperspectral satellite launched by China is the ZY-3, which has a spectral range of 400 to 900 nanometers and a spatial resolution of 5.8 meters. The ZY-3 is designed for applications such as land resource management, mineral exploration, and disaster monitoring. The satellite has been used to support China’s Belt and Road Initiative by providing data for infrastructure planning and construction in countries along the Belt and Road route.

The advanced hyperspectral satellites launched by China have had significant applications and impacts, both domestically and internationally. The Huanjing-1A has been used to monitor water quality in China’s rivers and lakes, while the GF-5 has been used for urban planning and forest fire detection. In addition, China’s hyperspectral satellites have been used for scientific research, such as monitoring the effects of climate change on the earth’s surface.

The launch of advanced hyperspectral satellites by China is likely to have a significant impact on a range of applications, including environmental monitoring, mineral exploration, and disaster response. With the continued development of this technology, China is likely to play an increasingly important role in the global hyperspectral satellite industry and contribute to scientific research, disaster response, and national security efforts around the world.

 

SAR satellites

China has been rapidly developing its capabilities in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology, which provides a powerful tool for imaging the earth’s surface in all weather conditions and at all times of day. SAR imaging uses radar pulses to create high-resolution images of the earth’s surface, which can be used for a range of applications including environmental monitoring, disaster response, and military surveillance. China has launched several advanced SAR satellites in recent years, which are capable of providing high-quality imaging data for a range of applications.

One of China’s most advanced SAR satellites is the Gaofen-3, which was launched in 2016. The satellite has a resolution of 1 meter and can collect data in multiple imaging modes, including strip-map, spotlight, and scan SAR modes. This makes it valuable for applications such as land use monitoring, urban planning, and disaster response. The Gaofen-3 has been used to support China’s Belt and Road Initiative by providing data for infrastructure planning and construction in countries along the Belt and Road route.

“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.

Another advanced SAR satellite launched by China is the Yaogan-30, which is part of a series of military reconnaissance satellites. The Yaogan-30 has a resolution of less than 1 meter and is capable of imaging at night and in all weather conditions. The satellite is designed to provide high-quality imagery for military surveillance and intelligence gathering.

China has also launched the Jilin-1 SAR satellite, which has a resolution of 3 meters and can collect data in both strip-map and spotlight modes. The satellite is designed for applications such as disaster monitoring, crop yield estimation, and environmental monitoring. The Jilin-1 has been used to monitor the impact of natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, as well as to support agricultural production and land use management.

The advanced SAR satellites launched by China have had significant applications and impacts, both domestically and internationally. The Gaofen-3 has been used to monitor the impacts of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, while the Yaogan-30 has been used for military surveillance and intelligence gathering. In addition, China’s SAR satellites have been used for scientific research, such as monitoring the effects of climate change on the earth’s surface.

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 launch of advanced SAR satellites by China is likely to have a significant impact on a range of applications, including disaster response, military surveillance, and environmental monitoring. With the continued development of this technology, China is likely to play an increasingly important role in the global SAR satellite industry and contribute to scientific research, disaster response, and national security efforts around the world.

  

 Communication Satellites

China has a large fleet of communication satellites in orbit, which are used to provide a variety of services, including television broadcasting, telecommunications, and navigation. China’s communication satellites are some of the most advanced in the world, and the country is a leading player in the global communication satellite market.

 

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.

 

6G Satellites

China is one of the leading countries in the development of 6G technology. In November 2020, China launched the world’s first 6G experimental satellite, which is designed to test new technologies for 6G communication. The satellite is carrying a terahertz satellite communication load, which is designed to test the use of terahertz waves for 6G communication. Terahertz waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation that is in the frequency range of 0.1 to 10 terahertz. Terahertz waves have a number of advantages for 6G communication, including the ability to carry more data and the ability to penetrate walls and other objects.

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.

 

Global Internet

China is planning to launch a constellation of up to 13,000 satellites to provide global internet connectivity. The project is called “Guowang” and is being developed by the China Satellite Network Group Co., Ltd. The company has filed for regulatory approval with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and is expected to begin launching satellites in the next few years.

The Guowang constellation will be made up of a variety of different types of satellites, including communications satellites, navigation satellites, and Earth observation satellites. The constellation will be designed to provide global coverage and to be able to withstand natural disasters.

The Guowang constellation is part of China’s efforts to become a leading player in the global space industry. The project is also seen as a way to improve China’s internet infrastructure and to connect rural and underserved areas of the country.

The Guowang constellation is a ambitious project and it remains to be seen whether it will be successful. However, it is a sign of China’s growing ambition in the space industry and its commitment to providing global internet connectivity.

 

 

Beidou Navigation Satellite Constellation Launched Successfully

The BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) that is comparable to the US Global Positioning System (GPS).  It is operated by the China Satellite Navigation Office (CSNO).

This system provides global navigation services similar to the GPS system used by the United States. The Beidou system consists of 35 satellites in orbit, providing coverage across China and the Asia-Pacific region. The system is used for a range of applications including transportation, surveying, and precision agriculture.

The BDS system consists of three generations of satellites:

  • BeiDou-1: The first generation of BDS satellites, which were launched between 2000 and 2009. BeiDou-1 provided regional coverage of China and the Asia-Pacific region.
  • BeiDou-2: The second generation of BDS satellites, which were launched between 2010 and 2017. BeiDou-2 provided global coverage and improved accuracy and reliability over BeiDou-1.
  • BeiDou-3: The third generation of BDS satellites, which are being launched between 2018 and 2020. BeiDou-3 will further improve accuracy and reliability, and will add new services, such as high-precision timing and BeiDou-based differential correction.

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.

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).

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 BDS system is now fully operational and provides global coverage. It is used by a variety of users, including government agencies, businesses, and individuals. The BDS system is a major achievement for China and is a sign of the country’s growing technological capabilities.

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.

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.

 

 

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”.

 

Ground stations

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
Beidou.

 

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.

 

 

China has exported satellites to over 120 countries and regions.

The most popular type of satellite exported by China is the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), which is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) that is comparable to the US Global Positioning System (GPS). China has also exported satellites for a variety of other purposes, including communications, Earth observation, and meteorology.

 

The export of satellites by China has been a major driver of the country’s economic growth. In 2021, the satellite industry in China generated over $100 billion in revenue. The industry is expected to continue to grow in the coming years, as China continues to invest in space technology and expands its presence in the global satellite market.

 

The export of satellites by China has also had a positive impact on the country’s reputation. China is now seen as a major player in the global space industry, and the country’s satellite exports are helping to promote China’s soft power around the world.

 

Conclusion

In addition to its achievements in space technology, China’s space program also has significant economic and geopolitical implications. The country’s commercial satellite launches have helped to establish a competitive domestic satellite industry, which has the potential to generate significant revenue for the country’s economy. China’s military satellite launches have also raised concerns among other countries, particularly the United States, about the country’s military capabilities in space.

 

Despite these concerns, China’s space program has made significant contributions to the global space community. The country has collaborated with other countries on a range of space projects, including the International Space Station and lunar exploration missions. China’s space program has also contributed to scientific research, including the study of space weather and the search for extraterrestrial life.

 

In conclusion, China has emerged as a global space power with a rapidly advancing space program. The country’s achievements in commercial and military satellite launches, as well as the development of a space station, have demonstrated its technological capabilities and its ambition to establish a permanent human presence in space. While there are concerns about the implications of China’s space program, it has also made significant contributions to the global space community and has the potential to generate significant economic benefits for the country.

 

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