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Hongyun Project – China's Low-Earth Orbit Broadband Internet Project

Larry Press

Long March 11 rocket and Hongyun-1 satellite (source).It might be tempting to dismiss this effort as small and behind the broadband satellite projects of companies like SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat, but that would be a mistake.

Last December, State-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) launched the first experimental Hongyun (rainbow cloud) Project satellite, and they began testing it in March.

The 247 kg test satellite is in orbit at an altitude of around 1,100 km, and they plan to launch four more test satellites this year and begin operating with a 156-satellite constellation in 2022. I don't know anything more about their plans, but with only 156 satellites I suspect they will focus on unserved regions in rural China and perhaps Latin America at first.

It might be tempting to dismiss this effort as small and behind the broadband satellite projects of companies like SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat, but that would be a mistake. China has an ambitious, global Internet infrastructure and application program called the Digital Silk Road and the "road" is terrestrial with highways, ports, pipelines, and railways, undersea with cables and in space with Hongyun Project and their Beidou satellite navigation system which will be global next year, and the Digital Belt and Road Earth observation program. Our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the current trade war were gifts to the Chinese.

Update Jun 4, 2019:

CASIC broke ground on April 24 for a satellite industry park in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, where they will produce satellites for the Hongyun project.

In keeping with China's policy of funding competitors, another production line operated by a satellite start-up, Spacety, based in Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province, began construction in January. Each facility is expected to produce 100 satellites per year. (China has historically funded Internet service competition).

Update Jun 18, 2019:

U.S. military tracking data shows the satellite is in a nearly circular orbit averaging 1,067 km altitude at an inclination of 99.9 degrees and CASIC confirmed that Hongyun would emphasize service in China's remote regions.

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University – He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.comVisit Page
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