China's answer to Starlink? Long March 8 rockets will launch new satellite mega-constellation

The Long March 8 system will help to launch the 13,000-satellite 'Guowang' satellite mega-constellation into orbit.
Chris Young
Long March 8's debut flight on Dec 22, 2020.
Long March 8's debut flight on Dec 22, 2020.


The China National Space Administration (CNSA) recently announced that it will look to vastly expand the production of its new Long March 8 launch system with a facility capable of producing 50 of the rockets per year.

That rocket will help China lift a new satellite mega-constellation into orbit that will allow it to compete with SpaceX's Starlink internet capabilities.

China's satellite constellation, sometimes referred to as "Guowang", or national network, will be comprised of roughly 13,000 satellites in low Earth orbit. Much like SpaceX's Starlink, it draws concerns about the effects it could have on the global astronomical community.

China prepares to launch a 13,000-satellite constellation

China is expected to launch the first satellites of its new network later this year. According to a SpaceNews report, the first satellites will be launched atop a Yuanzheng-2 second stage attached to a Long March 5B rocket for the first time.

Now, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is boosting the production of Long March 8 to help it reach the capacity it requires to launch its entire constellation. To do so, it is building a new facility and launch pads at Wenchang Spaceport on Hainan island.

The Long March 8 rocket is China's most up-to-date operational rocket. The country is also developing the Long March 9 rocket, and it recently announced that it will be fully reusable, much like SpaceX's Starship. The Long March 10 rocket, meanwhile, is expected to help it send astronauts to the Moon before 2030.

During a launch in February 2022, Long March 8 lifted 22 satellites into orbit, setting a national record. That launch allowed China to verify the launch system for future "Guowang" missions.

Little is known so far regarding the specifications of the "Guowang" satellites, though they are reportedly being developed by CASC subsidiary CAST and the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Microsat.

China's "Guowang" satellites could worsen the congested sky problem

With China's plans to launch as many as 13,000 satellites into orbit, there will likely be concerns over the potential impact on astronomical observations as well as potential security concerns — especially following the China high-altitude balloon incident earlier this year.

SpaceX is by far the company with the most satellites in space at the moment, though, having lifted more than 4,400 of its Starlink satellites to orbit. It is also awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Authority to launch a further 30,000 of its satellites.

In an interview with Interesting Engineering last year, University of Regina astronomer Dr. Samantha Lawler warned that we are already "right on the edge" of the risk of Kessler Syndrome due to the high number of satellites in orbit.

Kessler Syndrome describes a scenario whereby one piece of machinery breaks up in space, creating shrapnel that damages other objects, leading to a cascading destructive effect similar to the one seen in the movie 'Gravity'. If it does happen, it would feel like we were "inside a snow globe within a couple of hours of sunrise or sunset," Lawler explained, and any efforts to fix the problem would be akin to "collecting bullets."

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