A Chinese start-up has successfully inserted an experimental communications satellite into orbit.
Developed by Beijing-based firm, GalaxySpace, Lingxi-03 features an ultra-thin, flexible solar wing and is testing key technologies for China’s planned 13 000 satellite constellation in what will be China’s answer to Elon Musk’s Starlink.
The satellite was launched into orbit at the end of June from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre, Shanxi, aboard a Chinese Long March 2D liquid fuel rocket.
Lingxi-03’s solar panels are about as thin as a credit card, measuring just 0.01 centimetres, yet have a capacity greater than commercial photovoltaic panels.
The experimental satellite’s entire solar array can be folded and contained in a five-centimetre cylinder but when unfurled, measures nine by two-and-a-half metres, with a total surface area of 22.5 metres squared.
Such sophisticated technology is still very much in its infancy and has only been used on the Tiangong space station, according to the Chinese state media agency, CCTV.
The lightweight, compact nature of the solar wings made them ideally suited for large-scale operations that could potentially involve tens of thousands of satellites, said Zhu Zhengxian, chief technology officer for GalaxySpace.
The main body of Lingxi-03 was made with similar die-cast technology used in the automotive industry, which Zhu explains makes mass production more attainable.
All system electronics and measuring instrumentation are temperature-controlled and radiation-resistant, giving the satellite protection against the dramatic and inhospitable conditions experienced in space.
The low-orbit communications craft processes information with powerful onboard computers. Lingxi-03 could handle a digital payload of 10 gigabytes per second and analyse mountains of data, essentially fulfilling the roles of satellite and ground-base station simultaneously, reported Zhu.
GalaxySpace was founded in 2018, becoming the first domestic firm specialising in satellite-based broadband services in the process. Since then, the Beijing-based start-up has conducted funding rounds that have pushed the young company’s valuation past $1.5 billion in September 2022.
GalaxySpace deposited six experimental satellites into orbit to carry out 5G network tests in what the company called a “mini-spider constellation”, according to the South China Morning Post.