China puts its flexible solar paneled communications satellite into orbit

The 1 mm thick solar panel folds in less than two inches of thickness but stretches to 30 feet in length and is eight feet wide when unfolded.
Ameya Paleja
Flexible solar panel at a test facility before the launch
Flexible solar panel at a test facility before the launch


China has successfully put into orbit its first communications satellite with flexible solar panels, a CGTN report said. The rocket blasted off at 10:50 am along with three remote sensing satellites onboard a Long March-2D rocket from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Sunday.

China's push for space dominance has included a mysterious spaceplane that landed in May this year after spending 276 days in orbit and sending a crewed mission to the Moon.

In recent months, the country has also declared its intent to launch its constellation of communication satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) to power space-based internet services. It has now achieved another first by deploying flexible solar panels.

Small, lightweight, and folds up

The communication satellite called Lingxi-03, developed by GalaxySpace, is yet another plate-like satellite the country has been experimenting with recently.

The payload on the plate-like structure includes a processor to allocate resources and an active thermal control fluid circuit that can function like an air-conditioning unit and regulate the spacecraft's temperature.

However, the highlight of the mission was the one-millimeter-thick single-layer flexible solar panel. Folding solar panels is a trick used on multiple occasions to maximize the limited real estate inside a rocket. However, with the flexible design, the scientists behind the mission achieved a major feat.

The solar panel was no more than two inches (five cm) thick when rolled up. When Lingxi-03 was deployed in orbit on Sunday, the panel extended to a length of 30 feet (nine meters) and had a width of eight feet (2.5 m). The flexible nature of the solar panels also provides a larger surface area enabling the absorption of more solar energy, the report said.

Sunday's launch was the 479th mission of the Long March carrier rocket family, but it also achieved more than one first. China also completed the first in-orbit verification of multi-satellite stack launch technology, which will aid in rapidly deploying communication satellites in LEO.

A world with 6G

After the recent launch, the chief scientist of GalaxySpace provided more insight into China's plans with the satellite constellation. Stressing how communication satellites in LEO were able to address issues of coverage, bandwidth, and costs associated with space-based services, Zhang added that the orbiting spacecraft would complement the 5G internet technology on the ground.

China puts its flexible solar paneled communications satellite into orbit
6G technology will unravel the Internet of Everything

Going further, the satellites would support a demand for ubiquitous networks not limited by geography or modes of transport such as air. High-speed internet using 6G of communication technology will allow mobile phones to connect directly to satellites and lead to a flurry of applications in the industry as well, Zhang added.

Interesting Engineering has previously reported how China has pushed for the rollout of 5G internet technology and currently boasts nearly three million base stations across the length and breadth of the country. This has led to an increase in productivity, a reduction in the manufacture of defectives as well as carbon emissions, a report said.

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