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Chinese Private Aerospace Company Released Plan on the “Magpie” Constellation with 378 Satellites Deployed in the Long Run

The 1st China Space Conference and China (International) Commercial Space Symposium were held on April 23 in Harbin, northeast China. A Chinese private commercial aerospace company proposed its plan for “covering the entire Earth surface in half a day” on the conference, i.e. the plan for the “Magpie” remote sensing satellite constellation.

Originally this constellation will be composed of 132 6U CubeSats with optical resolution better than 4 m. These satellites will travel in the sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 500 km and the low Earth orbit respectively. Once deployed, this constellation will be able to perform earth observation with great temporal resolution which would cover the entire Earth surface. Global coverage for 12 hours will be realized and for key regions, a revisit interval of 30 minutes will be achieved. Therefore, this constellation will be in a leading position across the globe.

A total of 378 satellites are planned for this constellation in the long run. Then the hot-spot regions will be revisited almost in real time, i.e. every 10 minutes, so that the collected data will be more helpful and usable, meeting the requirements of various services on remote sensing data.

This constellation will be designed, developed and constructed jointly by Huaxun Fangzhou Co., Ltd., Beijing ZeroG Space Technology Co., Ltd. (or ZeroG Lab) and the Rocket Force University of Engineering. Each satellite will be in 6U CubeSat structure with a weight of about 8 kg, equipped with RGB full color space cameras. In order to avoid the situation occurred to conventional CubeSats that the orbit can hardly be adjusted, ZeroG Lab will equip the satellites with fully autonomous advanced devices for electric propulsion and inter-satellite communication so that they can perform attitude and orbital maneuver and inter-satellite data transmission in the orbit, leading to great maneuverability and capability in teamwork.

Zhang Bei, general manager of ZeroG Lab, said that, in order to avoid issues occurred to conventional satellites such as long period of production and mounting cost as well as addressing the disadvantages of current constellation projects in China, i.e. with huge plan but apparently insufficient capacity, ZeroG Lab and Huaxun Fangzhou will make joint effort in the design and production with a plan to build a domestically leading CubeSat production facility in Shenzhen. The initial annual capacity of this facility will be designed as 50 sets of CubeSats and components.

The test satellites (two satellites) of this constellation will be launched within this year. The first operational satellites will be launched in the next two years or so with 10 satellites on one rocket. In the next two to three years, satellite networking of the first phase will be completed. Zhang also said that then Huaxun Fangzhou would be in charge of most of the investment and the overall operation. In terms of the launch service, besides the commercially mature Long March 11 carrier rocket, cooperation with multiple private rocket manufacturers will be attempted.

It is worth noting that, according to experts, compared with the dove satellites built by Planet Labs of the USA which have similar features but with uniform flights, Magpie constellation has a design that 5 satellites fly as one cluster with formation flight so that they can perform imaging in various modes such as wide field imaging and stereo imaging, producing richer categories of data products.