China in recent years has dramatically increased its profile in the space sector. With Moon and Mars missions, as well as the development of a new space station, China is regularly in the headlines. To learn more about what is happening in China’s space sector, we spoke to Blaine Curcio. He supports clients via his firm Orbital Gateway Consulting and is co-host of the Dongfang Hour podcast on space sector developments in China.
What are some of the most exciting developments in China’s space sector?
Several things. First, China’s “answer to Starlink,” China SatNet and the GW constellation. About two months ago, the Chinese government created a new centrally controlled, state-owned enterprise called China SatNet. It will be the operating company for China’s LEO broadband constellation. We still don’t have many details on the constellation, but ITU filings suggest that it will be quite large.
The position of SatNet is significant in that it is one of about 100 centrally controlled, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and is at the same level of the SOE hierarchy as CASC (the major space contractor), CASIC (the secondary space contractor), and the big three telecommunications firms. This gives SatNet some degree of independence (in theory) in terms of who they are buying from in terms of rockets, satellites, etc. At the same time, China has recently published regulations surrounding small satellite manufacturing, which have provided further investor confidence. Moving forward, it will be very interesting to watch this project evolve.
Another exciting development is commercial launch in China. There are more than 20 commercial launch companies, and new ones are still showing up. A few weeks ago, we saw a new space company, oSpace, created from seemingly nothing, raise about $65 million in an angel funding round from a bunch of blue-chip investors. In the next one to two years, we will likely see a handful of commercial launch companies have their first flights.
Earth observation is another exciting sector, with a handful of companies doing some really interesting things with SAR. Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the major accomplishments of the Chinese Space Station and the Tianwen-1 Mars Mission. Both of these have been great to watch. We have covered them extensively on the Dongfang Hour podcast.
What do you think is a common misunderstanding about China’s space sector?
That the state or party is omnipotent, and that when they say build something, it just gets built, no questions asked. Ultimately, there are a lot of different stakeholders in most of these big projects. There is a lot that needs to get done in terms of building an industrial base and coordinating different companies. This is especially true in cutting-edge sectors like space.
What advice do you have for people who want to learn more about China’s space sector?
At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I can objectively recommend my above-mentioned podcast, the Dongfang Hour. We do 30-minute episodes every single week – accessible via audio or our YouTube channel, with video version including epic videos. The episodes typically cover three to four current news events. Occasionally we do deep-dive episodes. I also highly recommend the website and magazine Go-Taikonauts. It’s been run for several years by a close friend of mine at ESA, as well as by her business partner who is one of the co-inventors of the word “taikonaut.” They are the OGs of China space industry news. Separately, Andrew Jones is a good Twitter follow, as are @Cosmic_Penguin and @Kaynouky (the latter mostly tweets in French).