Carmaker Geely puts first satellites into space

A company controlled by one of China’s top carmakers just put its first satellites into space.

But Geespace, a unit of China’s Geely automotive empire, says its ambitions are more modest than Elon Musk’s plans for Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Nine of the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. subsidiary’s satellites began circling the planet last week after being placed in orbit by a Chinese government rocket.

That makes it one of the first Chinese companies to begin assembling the sort of satellite constellations pioneered by Musk’s SpaceX, which already has more than 2,000 in orbit.

“Both of us have a car-manufacturing background and we hope aerospace technology and satellites can feed back to car manufacturing and travel,” Geespace Chief Executive Officer Tony Wang said in an interview Tuesday. “The difference is our goals in making satellites.”

SpaceX is sending its Starlink satellites into orbit to build an internet-service constellation to work as a low-cost alternative to remote land-based systems that are vulnerable to interruption.

The Hawthorne, California-based company also launches rockets for global satellite operators, the U.S. military and NASA.

Headquartered in Shanghai, Geespace has more modest ambitions, with plans to deploy a much smaller network to help Geely and other companies access and transmit data for autonomous driving.

Geespace expects to have 72 satellites by the end of 2025, Wang said, and 168 by the end of the decade.

“We want to provide users with the ultimate travel experience while SpaceX focuses more on access to low-latency broadband to provide high-speed broadband access for 7 billion people in the world,” he said.

Geely owns several car brands in China as well as Sweden-based Volvo Car AB, electric-vehicle maker Polestar and British carmaker Group Lotus Plc.

The group’s billionaire founder and chairman Li Shufu also owns nearly 10% of Mercedes-Benz Group AG.

The Geespace launch comes at a time when China is ramping up efforts to compete with the US to be a space power.

China’s space agency has several missions planned this year to complete work on Tiangong, a space station that Beijing first started after the US prevented it from taking part in the International Space Station.

A Chinese spacecraft carrying three astronauts took off for a mission to work on Tiangong on June 5.

Geespace is following the lead of Chinese rival GalaxySpace, which had six satellites enter orbit in March. Weighing an average of 190 kilograms (420 pounds), those were China’s first entrants in efforts to develop constellations in low-Earth orbit, state media reported.

“China’s constellation is small compared with Starlink,” the Global Times newspaper said in a report on the launch, adding that the country “is ramping up efforts to promote the application and transfer of space technology in the next five years.”

Geespace intends on doing its part, making its network open to other brands, about which more information will be revealed within three months, Wang said.

“Geely’s future collaboration partners will not be limited to Geely’s ecosystems and car brands,” he said. “We are also building up partnerships with other industries.”

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Carmaker Geely puts first satellites into space