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Testing at smart satellite factory now underway

Feb 24, 2021 Excavator blog

An attendee looks at a model of a Beidou Navigation Satellite at an expo in Shenyang, Liaoning province, in September, 2020. HUANG JINKUN/FOR CHINA DAILY

Construction of China’s first smart manufacturing plant for satellites has been completed in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, and it is scheduled to be ready to commence production in March, its owner said.

CASIC Space Engineering Development, a Wuhan-based subsidiary of State-owned defense giant China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, said on Sunday that construction of the plant, in Xinzhou district’s Wuhan National Space Industry Base, and installation of its equipment were finished on Dec 30.

Engineers and technicians have been testing and fine-tuning its apparatus since then and are expected to complete that work in March, when the facility will become ready for production, the company said.

Zou Guangbao, general manager of CASIC Space Engineering Development, said that design and construction of the plant, the first of its kind in China, took 429 days. When it reaches full manufacturing capacity, it will be capable of making 240 small satellites a year.

Liu Feng, one of the plant’s project managers, said building a satellite involves dozens of steps, ranging from component installation and satellite assembly to electronic and mechanical tests, and the current production method requires all of them to be carried out manually.

“By comparison, our plant uses robots to perform major steps, which means we can improve the average manufacturing efficiency for satellites by more than 40 percent,” Liu said.

Plans previously published by CASIC Space Engineering Development said the initial task of the new plant will be to produce small satellites to realize CASIC’s Hongyun program, which aims to operate a network of more than 150 communications satellites.

The program, begun by CASIC in September 2016, will establish a satellite system to provide broadband internet connectivity to users around the world, especially those in underserved regions.

The first Hongyun satellite was launched atop a Long March 11 carrier rocket in December 2018 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China.

The spacecraft has executed hundreds of communication experiments and other technical tests and generated a great deal of data and images, designers said. It has also conducted China’s first technology demonstration tests involving the use of a low-orbiting satellite in 5G communication and internet-of-things services.

In addition to the satellite plant, a manufacturing complex for CASIC’s Kuaizhou-series carrier rockets has begun first-phase operation at the 68.8-square-kilometer Wuhan National Space Industry Base, the country’s first commercial space industry hub.

The rocket complex includes factories, testing facilities, office buildings and a power station. CASIC said it has an initial production capacity of 20 Kuaizhou-series solid-propellant rockets a year.

Liu Kun in Wuhan contributed to this story.