By Wang Fengjuan
At 12:07 a.m. on November 21, 2015, the Lao Sat-1 communications satellite was launched into orbit, carried by a Long March 3B rocket. The roar of the rocket “was awesome,” recalled Han Qingping, President of China AsiaPacific Mobile Telecommunications Satellite Company (China APMT), a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (China Aerospace).
Han viewed the launch with then Lao Vice President Bounnhang Vorachit just 3 kilometers away from the launch site. The satellite was the first of its kind China had exported to ASEAN.
The association of the Lao satellite project with China Aerospace originated from one of Han’s market research tours. In 2006, he traveled to Laos with his team to research cassava, a shrub that can be used as biofuel. Unexpectedly, Han learned that the Lao government intended to restart its National Telecommunications Reform Program, which required satellites. Han saw this as a perfect opportunity to enter the ASEAN market.
Aerospace companies from the United States, France and Russia competed with China during the bidding process. The competition was fierce.
“There are always more solutions than problems,” Han recalls telling his team. They thought from the perspective of the Lao government in order to tailor a satellite that specifically met their needs.
“What are the specifics of the telecommunications equipment they need? We can launch a satellite to suit their needs,” Han recalls saying. “Do they know how to operate a satellite like this? We can build a complete ground application system for them. Do they have qualified personnel? We can establish a joint company for management and operations, as well as training of local personnel. Can they afford the project? We can establish a loan program.”
Han’s team came up with a package system, which included everything from space to ground plus commercial operations. They not only constructed the satellite, but also built a complete ground application system and trained local personnel. Meanwhile, China APMT will participate in the operation and management of satellite-related assets, and will work with the Export-Import Bank of China on a loan deal.
“The success of our cooperation with Laos is owed to the traditional friendship that exists between China and Laos,” Han said. “We also took into consideration various realities on the ground and tailored a special package for our client.”
Lao Sat-1 is in orbit at 128.5 degrees east longitude. The satellite can serve Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and other Mekong Delta countries, which made it more attractive than the United States design option, which was able to serve Laos only. The expanded coverage of the satellite means more opportunities for Laos in regional cooperation.
“The coverage of satellite service for the entirety of the Indochina Peninsula and ASEAN will be similar to the construction of a space-based information highway, which plays an exemplary role in connecting China and ASEAN more closely,” Han said.
The Lao market is an entry point into the Mekong sub-regional satellite broadcasting and communication market, providing neighboring countries with such services as satellite communication, satellite TV live broadcasts, communication and data transmission, and Wi-Fi connection. This strengthens the flow of information.
Making the Most of a Satellite
According to a China-Laos bilateral agreement, the Lao Asia Pacific Satellite Company was established, with the former Lao Minister of Post and Telecommunication serving as the chairman of the board and Han as the vice chairman. The two parties will jointly appoint a general manager to operate and manage the assets of Lao Sat-1 as well as the ground application system.
“The coverage of satellite service for the entirety of the Indochina Peninsula and ASEAN will be similar to the construction of a space-based information highway,” Han said.
The Lao government will provide the joint company with preferential policies as well as the required operating licenses and frequency resources. Entrusted by the Lao government, the company will operate and manage the assets of the satellite as well as the ground application system, using franchising to carry out everyday operations.
Today, the 12-hectare ground station complex near the Mekong River has been completed. According to the Lao government, the ground station will be open to the public as Laos’ high tech exhibition facility in the future.
“With the full motion aerials, we can monitor and control the satellites in real time,” Han said. “We not only monitor communication and information security, but also provide services such as TV signal transmission and remote education services. Services like these help the well-being of the people.”
Having launched the satellite, Han’s team will teach clients how to utilize its capabilities.
Lao citizens used to watch TV via a number of different methods. Some watched cable TV, some used microwave transmission towers, while others acquired TV signals from neighboring countries. With the launch of the Lao Sat-1, however, Laos will now have a satellite TV service of its own, giving its citizens access to an improved connection and a larger number of channels.
Lao Sat-1 is also helping citizens in mountainous regions gain access to communication channels, as local topography has made it difficult to receive mobile phone service. Lao Sat-1’s communication capabilities will give these citizens the ability to communicate over long distances. The Chinese design team behind the satellite has also integrated a Wi-Fi system with TD-LTE4G technology within its satellite communication system so that an increased number of citizens will have access to the internet.
“The launch of the satellite and infrastructure construction have both been completed, and the franchising part of the operation has just begun,” Han said.
Without an independent international gateway station, Laos used to depend on other countries’ gateways for international communication. This meant Laos lacked autonomy of content, which hindered the country’s information security. Han’s team built an international gateway station for Laos within the satellite ground application system, solving problems related to internet bandwidth, which in turn broadened Laos’ access to international data transmission.
In terms of orbital position coordination, China Aerospace sent a team of experts to work with Laos in coordinating with Vietnam, Japan, Russia and a handful of other countries. They also trained a talent pool that works specifically within this field. There are now 50 satellite-related technical personnel working in three different teams in Laos.
“China’s aviation and aerospace technology is more advanced,” Han said. “I would like to share our high-tech civil technology, such as the Bei Dou navigation system, remote sensing imagery and unmanned aerial vehicle designs, with our ASEAN clients.”
In 2011, China Aerospace officially designed China APMT as an “international cooperation platform”. Han is considered a pioneer in the internationalization of China’s aerospace industry. In its efforts to “go global”, China Aerospace exports not only talent and resources, but also experience and a strong sense of responsibility.