China is set to compete with Elon Musk in the space race as it prepares to launch the first satellites in a new low-orbit network next month. The Chinese company, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, plans to launch a constellation of 300 communications and remote-sensing satellites. By 2027, they aim to have 192 satellites in orbit, and this number will increase to 300 by 2030.
Unlike Musk’s Starlink network, which orbits at approximately 550 kilometers, the Chinese satellites will operate at an altitude of about 300 to 450 kilometers. These Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) satellites are smaller and cheaper to manufacture, pose a lower risk of space debris collisions, and offer better connectivity, according to research.
The launch of this rival satellite constellation marks another milestone in China’s space program, which has recently seen the country launch its own crewed space station and announce plans to build a moon base. China has also surpassed 700 satellites since 2019, with approximately one-third of them dedicated to intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance.
However, despite these advancements, China still lags behind Elon Musk’s Starlink constellation. SpaceX currently has over 5,000 satellites in orbit and plans to increase its launch schedule in the coming year. Musk’s long-term vision includes a constellation of 42,000 satellites.
SpaceX is preparing for the second launch of its Starship rocket this weekend, designed to accommodate the new generation of larger Starlink satellites. The rocket has undergone over 1,000 modifications to mitigate the risk of a repeat of the explosion that occurred during the first launch attempt in April.
The rivalry between China and Elon Musk’s space endeavors continues to heat up, with both sides vying for dominance in the satellite communication and remote-sensing market.