On Wednesday, China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group launched nine satellites into low earth orbit as part of a plan to build out a satellite network to enable more accurate navigation for its autonomous cars.
The GeeSAT-1 satellites, self-designed and constructed, were launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan’s southwestern province. By 2025, Geely anticipates another 63 to be in orbit, bringing the total number of satellites to 240.
Geely became the second major car manufacturer to have an affiliated space company with the launch. The CEO of Tesla Inc Elon Musk also owns SpaceX, which has over 2,000 satellites in space for its Starlink network, which provides commercial internet services. Starlink intends to build a 4,408-satellite first-generation network.
While SpaceX launched its satellites with its rockets, Geely launched the nine with a Long March 2C rocket developed and managed by a Chinese state-owned company.
“Geespace is preparing to address future consumer demands for high-precision location, space-based communication, and remote sensing services by building the Geely Future Mobility Constellation. Furthermore, by making Geespace’s expertise and capabilities in commercial satellite production, AIT services, and satellite support infrastructure services available to customers, new development opportunities have opened up in a variety of sectors, including smart mobility, consumer electronics, unmanned systems, smart cities, and environmental protection,” said Tony Wang, Geespace’s CEO and Chief Scientist.
The automaker intends to build a network of low-earth-orbit satellites to provide precise positioning data to self-driving vehicles.
Last year, the production began. When mass manufacturing began in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, it signified the arrival into the industry of China’s largest privately-owned carmaker. Greely’s manufacturing expertise will be put to use on a variety of satellites. The goal is to produce 500 units per year.
Geely claimed the network would serve additional commercial tasks, such as providing communication services for the Asian Games in September and high-precision positioning assistance to self-driving cars.
According to the company, the satellites have a five-year operational lifespan and will disintegrate in the upper orbit without creating any space trash.
Geely appears to have viewed entering the satellite market as necessary for developing its worldwide vehicle business. Li Shufu, Founder and Chairman of Geely, is a member of China’s National People’s Congress. Because Geely is located in Zhejiang Province, where Xi once served as party secretary, Li is considered close to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Previously off-limits sectors, such as nuclear energy, have recently attracted private-sector participation.
In the first part of this year, Geely plans to launch two demonstration satellites to test navigational upgrades. While GPS, Beidou, and other GNSS satellite systems enable location accuracy to the meter level, driverless vehicles require navigation enhancement to the centimeter level.
China’s Space Industry
Although China’s military dominates its satellite networks, the government began to allow private participation in its space industry in 2014. Since then, commercial businesses have raced into the industry, with the majority focusing on satellites and the rest attempting to create small launch vehicles, including reusable rockets, with some local governments’ backing.
Beijing has proposed an integrated network of satellites for connectivity, remote sensing, and navigation in its next five-year plan for 2021-2025. According to state media, China presently has over 400 satellites in orbit, including commercial ones.