Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Geely's LEO constellation for mobile vehicle connectivity

It will be interesting to watch the mobile vehicle solutions of and competition between Geely and Tesla/Starlink.

The Geely Holding Group (GHG) is a private Chinese conglomerate that is highly diversified, but best known as an auto manufacturer that envisions itself as a "global mobile technology group." GHG announced this week that it has begun construction of an intelligent satellite production and testing facility that will include modular satellite manufacturing, satellite testing, satellite R&D, and cloud computing centers.

They will be capable of producing a variety of different satellite models, but the immediate goal is to produce satellites for a constellation of LEO satellites capable of offering low-latency internet connectivity plus cloud and edge computing to support in-vehicle entertainment, navigation, over-the-air software updates and level 4 and later level 5 (full automation) autonomous vehicles. (For a summary of the definitions of SAE's six levels (0-5) of vehicle autonomy, click here and for a detailed definition click here). Note that in addition to car companies, GHG has interests in trucking, high-speed trains, and even passenger drones.

Reuters reported that GHG is investing $326 million in the project, aims to make 500 satellites a year by 2025, and will begin launching satellites this year. Geely, sold 2.18 million cars last year and will be adding satellite functionality to their cars as well as those of other GHC companies, including Volvo and Daimler.

The illustration on the GHG press release shows a CubeSat, so they are evidently not interested in competing with SpaceX and other would-be broadband ISPs, at least for now. (Three other Chinese companies are working on LEO broadband constellations). Regardless, they will compete with broadband LEO satellite providers for mobile vehicle applications and it will be interesting to watch the mobile vehicle solutions of and competition between Geely and Tesla/Starlink.

Update 2/2/2021

Geely has officially launched its internet satellite project in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province, with an investment of 4.12 billion yuan ($637 million). The project is located in the Qingdao Shanghe demonstration zone, which is the location of other projects in support of the Belt and Road Initiative. I assume that being within the demonstration zone means they are receiving some subsidy -- perhaps free land or tax breaks like states and cities often give to attract business in the US. (Remember the Amazon headquarters bidding war a couple years ago)? For an explanation of the somewhat opaque system of local government, national government, and private financing of Chinese space ventures, listen to or read the transcript of this podcast interview of China-space expert Blaine Curcio.

Update 1/6/2022

On December 14, an Expace rocket carrying Geely's test satellites, Geesats A and B failed. While this was a setback, Curcio reported several positive developments as well. Geely's highly automated satellite manufacturing factory will make 500 satellites per year and they have been aggressively hiring people with extensive satellite design and manufacturing experience, including at least ten experts who had worked on the third generation Beido positioning, navigation, and timing service. 

Geely is also well-positioned politically. GHG Chairman Li Shufu is a member of the National People's Congress and is rumored to be a friend or close associate of Xi Jinping who spent five years as governor of GHG's home province. Li came from a humble family and the “Geely Common Prosperity Initiative” is clearly in line with Xi's drive for common prosperity.

For background on GHG and Li and his view of the future of mobile vehicles -- cars, ships, trucks, etc. -- see this Reuters report.

Update 8/23/2022

Geespace launched nine satellites and they are all performing correctly. They are the first of 72 phase-one satellites that are expected to be in orbit by 2025. The second 168 satellites will then be launched, bringing  the constellation up to 240 satellites.

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