China fights to control ‘Very Low Earth Orbit’ mega-sat constellation market

Special to, December 13, 2023


By Richard Fisher

China has tried mightily in the last decade to control emerging 5G digital communication networks by using Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controlled companies like Huawei and ZTE to gain access and then to try to dominate market share in both Western and developing countries

But China is also on the cusp of trying to contest control of the lucrative Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) market for large mega satellite constellations.

A December 2022 article by Chinese communications giant Huawei suggested plans for a Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) mega-satellite network for a possible future global 6G cellular-communications network. / Huawei

China views the current largest mega constellation, the now 5,500 going to 42,000 U.S. SpaceX Corporation Starlink broadband internet satellite constellation, as a physical and political threat.

In May 2022 Chinese authors working under the People’s Liberation Army’s Strategic Support Force, which controls China’s space warfare, wrote in the Chinese journal Modern Defense Technology that China required “soft and hard kill” methods to attack Starlink.

The Starlink constellation poses a collision risk to Chinese satellites and spacecraft, and it creates an “Internet” that is beyond the CCP’s control, which could also be used by Taiwan to sustain national communications if China invades the island democracy.

In addition, to counter the threats posed by Western satellite mega constellations, China has also adopted a strategy of creating its own multiple very large mega satellite constellations.

In 2020 China filed with the United Nations controlled, Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to create a 12,922-satellite network called Guowang.

The ITU is responsible for allocating frequencies and orbital slot/flight paths, to include VLEO, for communications satellites. Companies that file first get priority for frequency and orbital slot allocations and subsequent applicants have to coordinate with the entities that were allocated frequencies/slots earlier.

Then last July at a press conference of the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, a project was announced to create a second mega constellation of up to about 12,000 broadband satellites called “G60 Starlink.”

Huawei’s Ambitions

In addition, reports suggest that Chinese communications giant Huawei is going to build perhaps a third Chinese mega satellite constellation that could provide global connectivity to Huawei cell phones; The company currently uses a three-satellite network to provide cell phone connections in Asia.

In December 2022 the Huawei website published an article titled “Very-Low-Earth-Orbit Satellite Networks for 6G” that envisioned combining cellular and LEO satellite communications though it did not indicate the size of a possible Huawei mega constellation.

According to a Nov. 23 report on the website “Advanced Television,” “Huawei has launched two pairs of Ka-band prototype satellites (on August 21st and November 19th) and used these for test transmissions.”

A Nov. 29 report on the Ts.2 website notes that Huawei’s Ka band test satellites have achieved a 660 Megabits Per Second (Mbps) data download rate, whereas Starlink may only be capable of a 65 Mbps download rate.

As it has launched and tested Ka band broadband satellites it is possible that Huawei plans to include a large number of Ka band satellites in its constellation.

This is where Huawei is moving into possible confrontation with the rules that govern the placement of satellites.

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