Ten years ago, China’s nascent satellite industry was in mediocre shape. While the strategic decision made during the Mao era to focus military investment on nuclear deterrent (at the expense of conventional forces) successfully created a missile and rocket industry, the technology used in telecommunications satellites is of a different class. Zhou Zhicheng, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Space Technolog, told state media that Chinese satellites, of which the government had launched 40, lagged far behind their Western competitors in both number and quality.
While much of satellite technology was initially developed with warfare in mind, the commercial applications have long since eclipsed the martial. According to the Satellite Manufacturing Association’s 2009 report, global satellite industry revenues have climbed steadily over the last six years, reaching US$144.4 billion in 2008. The increasing penetration of satellite-based navigation and communication systems into the households of ordinary consumers, and the need to deliver high-definition television signal have all helped push satellite-makers profits higher.
Ten years later and China still lags. China is launching more satellites than ever before – and is now attempting to free itself from dependence on the US-based Global Positioning System (GPS) by developing its indigenous system, called Beidou. But it has so far failed to find much of an export market, until very recently, and its first forays were painful. Given that they are monitored by systems designed to detect missile attacks, satellite failures are impossible to conceal, and in 2008 a Chinese-made satellite sold to the government of Nigeria failed dramatically.
In its immediate neighborhood, it has few potential customers. Russia puts more satellites into space than any other country