Space: China Goes After SpaceX

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January 16, 2022: China has complained to the UN that American firm SpaceX has put too many of its Starlink satellites into LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and one of them recently came too close to a new Chinese space station. China wants SpaceX to do something about that and demands that the UN declare Starlink a danger to orbital traffic and regulate the number of satellites SpaceX can put into LEO for its Starlink Internet service.

China has other reasons for attacking SpaceX. Starlink is not the only one working to provide global satellite-based Internet service using a large number of small satellites in LEO. There is also Kepler, Telesat, LinkSure, LeoSat and others in the works. Starlink is backed by SpaceX, which has already launched nearly 2,000 satellites and does it cheaper than China, or anyone else.

The full Starlink system consists of over 11,000 small satellites and SpaceX met its goal of having nearly 2,000 satellites in orbit by 2021. Starlink offers high-speed Internet service worldwide and is not concerned with objections by foreign nations. This is especially true when one Chinese backed network, LinkSure, promises to provide “free wi-fi worldwide” and make money with ads and reselling user data. There is a catch as LinkSure is subject to Chinese censorship, while Starlink is not. This is what concerns nations like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran that all seek to impose tight control over local Internet users. Starlink was designed for users in remote areas where there was no affordable Internet service. Starlink impressed early users, including those reviewing it for various tech and consumer publications, because it worked. Starlink delivered download speeds of over 50 Mbps and upload speeds of 15 or more Mpbs. Most Internet users worldwide get by with 10/5 Mpbs and high-end users expect what Starlink supplies. Currently Starlink costs $499 for the small dish used to send and receive signals and a “modem” to make the Starlink signal compatible with current computers, plus $99 a month for service. Many Chinese, Russian and Iranian Internet users have the cash and courage to use foreign satellite communications services that are not censored and StarLink is an attractive solution because of its small satellite dish, which is 110mm (four inches) wide and 479mm long. Weighing four kg (8.8 pounds is has to be mounted outside but can be under a then non-metallic material that will conceal from the thought police.

For China, Starlink is but the latest irritation from SpaceX. China is trying to recreate the reusable boosters that make SpaceX launches so much cheaper without making their launch services even more unreliable that SpaceX. From a military point of view, Starlink is a major problem because China has been creating anti-satellite weapons that could cripple a conventional satellite communications and surveillance system. It would be much more expensive, time-consuming and uncertain to cripple an LEO network that is built around the concept of surviving major damage and continuing to operate. The Chinese solution is to go after SpaceX from many directions using bribes, intimidation, propaganda and litigation to take down a major, unexpected, threat.

 


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