China launches first satellite in bid to create global communications network and broaden net access

03-Jan-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

China has successfully launched its first satellite aimed at building a global communications network that could bring the internet to about 600 million Chinese still without access.

The world’s second-largest economy launched the technology experiment satellite (TES) in late December as part of its ambitious Hongyun Project, a low-orbit broadband communications satellite system aimed at global coverage with a network of small satellites about 1,000 kilometres above the Earth.

By bringing broadband internet access to remote and rural areas in China, the project represents an important part of China’s national policy to commercialise space technologies.

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According to data from the China Internet Network Information Centre, about 600 million Chinese are still without internet access. Extending connectivity to underdeveloped regions is seen as crucial to future e-commerce growth and connecting rural areas to the same levels of online health care and education services that are available in big cities.

After the launch of the first experimental satellite, four more satellites will be launched by 2020 to form a satellite constellation.

The Long March-11 rocket carrying the TES blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China at 7.51am on December 22, before successfully entering its preset orbit, according to a Xinhua report. The launch is an important first step in creating the broadband communications satellite system, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), a state-owned spacecraft developer, said on its official site.

Launched by CASIC in 2016, the Hongyun Project is aimed at connecting people in remote areas and underdeveloped regions across the world to the internet. It is expected to become operational around 2022.

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About half the world’s population were still offline as of June 2018, according to the International Telecommunications Union. Once complete, the Hongyun Project should be able to provide a “seamless broadband mobile internet service” across the globe, according to CASIC.

“[Hongyun] should allow the same internet experience in the desert, at sea, or even in flight just as if a person was at home,” said CASIC.

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The project features the integration of communications, enhanced low-orbit navigation and verified remote sensing, which are all reliant on space-based internet access capabilities, according to Xinhua.

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