China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, the nation's largest missile maker, will launch a satellite this year to demonstrate technologies for a vast space-based communications network capable of covering every corner on the Earth, including the Arctic and Antarctica.
Zhang Zhongyang, president of the CASIC Second Academy, said engineers are assembling the satellite and plan to place it into a low-Earth orbit before the end of this year to verify low-orbit broadband communication technologies to be used on the Hongyun satellite constellation.
He made the remarks on the sidelines of the First Plenary Session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which opened on Saturday in Beijing. Zhang is a member of the top political advisory body.[Special coverage]
The Hongyun project, launched by CASIC in September 2016, has the goal of building a space-based communications network of 156 small satellites in orbit about 1,000 kilometers above the Earth. It would become operational about 2022.
Researchers are designing the Hongyun satellite and will finish the design this year, Zhang said.
After the technology demonstration satellite, the academy will lift four Hongyun satellites by the end of 2020 to form a small network for the project's trial run, according to Zhang. He said once the trial run proves successful, CASIC will start to launch the Hongyun satellites to establish a global constellation.
When the Hongyun project is complete, it will cover the whole world and offer round-the-clock communication services to users in polar regions, who now have difficulties accessing telecommunication and internet services, Zhang said.
"Hongyun will enable our users to enjoy broadband internet service no matter whether they are in the desert, on the sea or onboard an airliner," he said, adding that it will help connect people in underdeveloped areas with the outside world.
Bei Chao, deputy head of the academy's space program department, said the Hongyun system will feature lower production and operational costs and fewer occurrences of data transmission delays compared with existing communication satellite networks.
The CASIC Second Academy has begun investing 300 million yuan (.3 million) to construct a research, development and manufacturing complex to make small satellites at the Wuhan National Space Industry Base in Hubei province.
The industry park, which will cover 68.8 square kilometers in Wuhan, was jointly launched by CASIC and the Hubei government. Construction began in April.
Globally, the concept of running a low-cost, high-performance satellite network to provide space-based communications and internet services has become popular among industry players.
In the United States, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, commonly known as SpaceX, launched two experimental satellites last month to test technologies for its Starlink project, in which tech tycoon Elon Musk, boss of SpaceX, proposes to place nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit by the mid-2020s.
Another U.S. firm, OneWeb, plans to launch a satellite constellation of 648 low-Earth orbit microsatellites by the end of 2019, though few developments have been reported.