ISU - Summer 2024

China Begins Construction of VLEO Satellite Constellation

CASIC
China began its High-Resolution Earth Observation System program in 2013. Credit: CASC

Ibadan, 14 July 2023. – China has begun the construction of an ultra-low orbit satellite constellation, according to the developer China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). CASIC disclosed this on Wednesday at the 9th China (International) Commercial Aerospace Forum in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, according to the local media. The constellation will reportedly comprise 300 communications and remote-sensing satellites orbiting the globe, providing a global ultrafast response capability within 15 minutes.

According to the construction plan, the first satellite in the constellation will launch in December 2023. After that, China will target launching a nine-satellite cluster for service verification with 2024 as its tentative completion date and a network of 192 satellites in orbit by 2027. By 2030, a total of 300 satellites will be in orbit for communication and remote-sensing services. At the moment, the design and production of the first prototype satellite is complete. It will carry payloads including an optical remote sensing camera, a space-borne intelligent processing device, and an atomic oxygen detector.

Relative to traditional orbits, the Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) has a complex dynamic environment, which needs to offset the impact of the rapid decay of satellite orbital altitudes due to higher atmospheric resistance.  However, the lower orbital altitude helps turn Earth observation from “remote sensing” to “near observation,” which contributes to lower cost, higher resolution, and shorter transmission delays. It also helps reduce the weight and cost of optical payloads by 50 percent while providing the same resolution. For example, the constellation will achieve 0.5-meter spatial resolution and transmit spatial information to users within 15 minutes, according to Zhang Nan, chief designer of the constellation.

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