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China Scores Major Coup in Satellite Space Race

Posted by: Frederik Balfour on March 23, 2009

The first time I blogged about China’s satellite rocket launch business, certain readers pointed out to me that I had strayed woefully out of my depth. And were it not for the persistent efforts of a PR flak at French rocket launch company Arianespace to keep me up to date, I would have missed an extremely significant development in the industry. On March 10, China scored a major commercial coup when it signed a deal to launch a “bird” on behalf of French satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat Communications in 2010.

While China has launched satellites on behalf of economically lesser nations such as Venezuela, which sent its satellite skyward aboard China’s Long March Rocket last October, it’s been more than a decade since it bagged a deal from a first world country.

According to Space News [sorry, this requires a subscription], Eutelsat chose the Chinese rocket because it was cheaper, could be launched sooner [western launch companies such as Arianaspace have a long waiting list] and because the service was comparable to Arianespace’s. Even more important, however, is the fact that because the Eutelsat satellite contains no U.S. components, thereby excluding it from restrictions under the U.S. law on International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which governs exports of U.S. defense-related technology and bars owners of satellites using U.S. parts from launching on Chinese rockets. The deal is especially worrisome for Washington because Eutelsat’s customers include the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq.

ITAR was designed to keep sensitive U.S. technology from falling into the wrong hands—namely China. But ironically, the export ban served to spur European companies such as the French-Italian joint venture satellite maker Thales Alenia Space to design its own birds using no U.S. parts, thereby allowing customers like Eutelsat to launch using whomever they like. Some folks in Washington are already worried that ITAR ban is causing too much in lost sales and are advocating the law be reexamined under the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, China has been busily developing its own satellite technology, to meet its own growing communications [and intelligence] needs, and those of customers such as Nigeria, which became the country’s first foreign commercial satellite client when the Long March 3B rocket blasted off in May 2007.

[Addendum: I noticed a piece in the China Daily on March 25 which says China will replace, free of charge, the Nigerian satellite NIGCOMSAT 1R which was supposed to stay in geostationary orbit for 15 years, but conked out on Nov. 11 2008. ]

And that’s not all. According to a piece on the International Herald Tribune website, China may be getting the jump on Europe in developing its own version of the U.S. Global Positioning Satellite Service.
Europe’s own answer to GPS is called the Galileo navigation satellite project that hopes to place 30 orbiting satellites in position by 2013, five years behind schedule. China was an original Galileo partner back in 2003, but it got squeezed out by the Europeans over security concerns.

So now it appears China is going it alone, and if it gets its own system up before the Europeans, it will have dibs on the radio frequency the Europeans hope to use, according to the first mover clause under the International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the United Nations. Considering the nearly $2 trillion hoard of foreign exchange China is sitting on, and the anemic state of the European economy, I’d put my money on the Chinese in this race.

Reader Comments


March 23, 2009 11:32 AM

The more western countries tried to denied China access to technology, the faster they push China to become independently innovative and competitive in technology.

falling back

March 23, 2009 1:25 PM

I agree with Ian

western countries have tried to limit exposure of technology to China. This created a sense of new innovation and not just some cheap fake of the US.

With continuing of this banning of sensative technology, US will be faced with the new era of innovation in defence and space technology.

alexandar the great

March 23, 2009 3:13 PM

Are we seeing dawn of non-white superiority in increasingly all fields (Science and Engineering, Economy, Defense). Socially, I think most Asians value individual morality more than their Western counterparts. Westerners, these days take up Britney, Prince Harry, Ben Affleck and Paris as their role models.


March 23, 2009 3:19 PM

There is more to the Eutelsat story -- a story that's vastly underreported -- how Eutelsat got into business with China by dropping NTDTV (an independent, non-profit Chinese language TV station based in New York) because of pressure from Beijing. NTDTV had long been a thorn in China's side as it detested this channel of uncensored news from the west to millions of Chinese people who installed small satellite dishes just for that purpose -- to get reliable news about China and the world. Eutelsat acted as a media censor to get favors from Beijing.

Reporters without Borders was one of the first to report about it. Later the European Parliament made some noise.

Besides media censorship, national security implications are also involved.,com_ettopic/topicid,33/


March 23, 2009 5:06 PM


March 23, 2009 5:17 PM

When will the West realize their racism is a national security threat? Westerners think that if they withhold certain technology from others, they will never be able to do it on their own. Why? Because Westerners think everyone else is intellectually inferior. But of course Westerners will continue to think that way because they need something to feel superior about. So the West will finally realize the inevitability until it's too late.


March 23, 2009 6:13 PM

It's safe to say the Cold War lives on, judging from China's blocking of Coke acquisition, to Australia's likely blocking of Rio Tinto, and US blocking of Unocal in 2005. Everyone has probably realized the choicest assets are best left off of the market. Western countries still block the transfer of advanced technology to China, and those policies will continue until China truly catches up technologically.


March 23, 2009 10:19 PM

The "wrong hands" are no one but those who brutally colonized the less developed countries in the 19th century, started two devastating world wars in 20th century, and destroyed millions of innocent lives and homes in the 21st century.

Tom H.

March 24, 2009 5:47 AM

Copying Russian designs and hiring Russian technicians is hardly "independently innovative." Competitively smart, sure, but not innovative.

Ben Gee

March 24, 2009 7:32 AM

By not selling to China technology that China need and want is one of the reason why the US is running a trade deficit with China. Because of US's mentality, it does not understand that the last thing China want is get into a war with anybody. China need peace to continue in developing its economy. China does not need more land nor people. China worked very hard to get to where they are. A war will destroy everything. They will lose the world market and all the friends they worked so hard to make.


March 24, 2009 10:59 AM

China is a threat to the free world.


March 24, 2009 11:43 AM

CHINA has no chance. India has already launched the Israeli TechSar military comm sat on its own rocket last year. And India's GPS system Gagan will come on stream long before China.
I am all in favor of containing China, and I realize part of that strategy is to over-hype Chinese capabilities to strike fear into people.
But those in the know realize that China is far behind India in space and all other areas.


March 24, 2009 1:35 PM

Napoleon Bonaparte was right-

Once the dragon wakes up from its sleep, the world will feel it.


March 24, 2009 2:28 PM

The struggle for China to secure her place in the world has been a difficult road for the last couple of decades. But in many ways, I see much of the struggles, blessings in disguise. ITAR, I'm sure, did have it's intended effect. And that was to limit the flow of technology to China. China would probably have more technology without the existence of ITAR. However, to be truely innovative, a country needs to have it's people and it's economy, structured to innovate. The restrictions of technology by the US coupled with the Europeans being liberal with theirs, provided an ideal frame work for China. They had some access to Western technlogy, through Europe, without all of it (excluding the US). And what they didn't have, had to implement research and development to create it. I personally believe, China is in a period in history, where obstacles are blessings in disguise. I hope that Chinese will see that.


March 24, 2009 4:23 PM

Xian Huaxun microelectronics is the company which develops GPS hardware and software for China's Beidou global positioning system.


March 24, 2009 9:20 PM

NTDTV is not "an independent, non-profit Chinese language TV" but a mouthpiece of Falungong, which is banned in China and has been engaging anti-China propaganda campaign. Either you failed to do your research on Falungong or you are affiliated with them.


March 25, 2009 1:46 AM

India is a joke, the biggest joke on this planet and absolutely has no chance, even the Saharan Africa countries are far ahead of India in all areas, India also has hundreds of million of it`s people still living in condition "ANSWERING THEIRS NATURE CALL IN THE OPEN PLACES " I am all in favor of containing India, and I realize part of that strategy is to over-hype Indian capabilities to make a lot of Indians to be more idiotic.


March 25, 2009 1:55 AM

China is way behind India in the number of rat-infested railway stations, cow-blocked dirt paths, gigantic slums and a number of other major indices.

frederik balfour: Author

March 25, 2009 3:29 AM

I noticed a piece in the China Daily on March 25 which says China will replace, free of charge, the Nigerian satellite NIGCOMSAT 1R which was supposed to stay in geostationary orbit for 15 years, but conked out on Nov. 11 2008.

China has been innovating for 5000 years

March 25, 2009 5:18 AM

China has been innovating for 5000 years and will keep innovating to the future


March 25, 2009 10:09 AM

Yes. China has _innovated_. They built great rockets with Russian technology.


March 25, 2009 11:00 PM

Nick is wrong! I was told that China stole technology from United States. So who is telling the truth?


March 28, 2009 10:12 AM

India is quantity with zero quality.
They can't even build a decent car.

Whites are very intelligent. We can only accept it humbly. But, Chinese are learning very fast and they will soon surpass the Whites as in the Olympics.

It's freer to be in China compared to Latin America, Africa or middle-East.


March 28, 2009 11:48 PM

"frederik balfour: Author
March 25, 2009 03:29 AM

I noticed a piece in the China Daily on March 25 which says China will replace, free of charge, the Nigerian satellite NIGCOMSAT 1R which was supposed to stay in geostationary orbit for 15 years, but conked out on Nov. 11 2008."
Yes, it was supposed to last 15 years but only two year but they need to learn on the reason of the failure of the first NIGCOMSAT. At least China is making it up to Nigeria for their satellite lost.
The satellite launching business is getting competitive.


March 29, 2009 1:24 PM

To Rob,
Next week at the 25th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, China's Shenzhou 7 Manned Space Flight Team, will receive the 2009 Space Achievement Award.

People like Rob should get their facts right comparing Indian and Chinese military/space tech. When China was first planning to send their Chang'e probe to the moon and there was much criticism from commentators in the West and India on why should a poor country like China should trouble itself with space when their were more pressing problems in China itself. No such criticism of India for it's Chandrayan moon probe a year later. In fact the West is actively encouraging India to be a additional counter-weight to China in economic/political/military/space matters.
As regards matters of innovation/technology, in the on-going war with the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the radar the Indians provided to the SL Government was an inferior 2D one compared to the Chinese 3D one. China has it's own synthetic aperature space-based radar for years now and the Indian's are having to buy the Israeli TechSar military satellite to cover their inadequacies.
I grant you that India is being allowed to buy foreign military systems (Israeli, Russian, USA, European) that the Chinese are prevented from but that merely drives the Chinese harder to succeed by themselves. It may take the Chinese some time and the Chinese are trying to develop their economy at the same time but they will eventually succeed.
As a historical point while China has achieved great civilization it has also seen great suffering during it's 4-5 millenia. During that time various other civilizations and empires have come and gone: Persian (several). Greek, Roman, Turkic (various), Mongol and its offshoot Mughal, Muslim, Spanish, Portugese, Dutch, Venetian, Austro-Hungarian, German (wannabee twice), Turkish, Japan(another wannabee), French, British, USSR. India was always a sub-continent hotchpot mix of ethnic groups, princedoms and religions. It was the British who put the current country, India, together with all its underlying tensions. For all its talk of democracy, India's elections are bought and paid for by the elites. The ruling class there cares not for the untouchables nor the poor in general, and they keep minorities like the Muslims down. India's economy is relatively small but they can find money for these imported military toys. For a country where 80% of people do a dump out in the open I predict that internal tension in India (corruption, communal riots and killings, religious persecutions, separatist groups and terrorism, farmer suicides, etc) which has been inadequately reported in the West will place a limit on India's development and may even cause bits of the country to drop off. The Chinese will then have outlived this British creation. Another British creation, the USA will be a long term empire on the model of the Eastern roman empire which out-lasted it's brother Western Roman empire till the Turks overran it. While America has wealth and a military that the Ancient Romans could only dream of the cracks have already started. An economy based on printing money because they can. A self-indulgent culture that provides a vast market for recreational drugs and one that worships guns inadvertently creates a narco-state south of the border.
Because of modern technology we can literally watch history in the making. May you live in interesting times!

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