China sparks fresh spy fears as it unveils plans to launch 13,000 satellites into space

Nasa's 'James Webb Space Telescope' launches into orbit

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The probes will be sent blasting into low-Earth orbit as part of Beijing’s 5G mobile Internet roll-out. The first firms have been given contracts to begin development work in the city of Chongqing, but the rest of the details are scarce. Reports suggest the push comes amid a global rush to fill the cosmos.

But it has also reportedly sparked the concerns of security experts over its ability to be used for spying.

It also comes amid renewed interest from China in Taiwan.

There are concerns that Communist leader Xi Jinping could launch an attack in a bid to “reunite” Taiwan with mainland China – despite strong opposition from its residents.

The first details of the satellites emerged in late 2020, when the government applied to the International Telecommunication Union for spectrum allocation.

The plan would be for them to operate across a range of frequency bands, and potentially operate around the world, providing services to different nations.

The project has earned support at the top levels of the Chinese government, and comes alongside plans for a range of satellite and space projects.

They all fall under China’s five-year plan for an integrated network of communications, Earth observation, and navigation satellites.

China has already launched Earth observation satellites, including two called Gaofen.

China has also completed the rollout of BeiDou, its alternative to the US-owned GPS satellite navigation system, making it available globally.

As recently as December, China also approved production of a broadband communication test satellite, built by Commsat as a test device.

Beijing’s interest in space comes as Elon Musk’s SpaceX is facing a boycott threat in the country.

China formally complained to the UN agency responsible for space safety after two near misses with SpaceX satellites that it says posed a serious threat to astronauts’ lives.

Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said that China “urges the US to act responsibly” after the incidents involving the Starlink satellites.

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China submitted a complaint accusing the US of ignoring international treaty obligations and engaging in irresponsible and unsafe conduct in outer space.

In a note to the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, China said Tiangong, its new space station, had to manoeuvre to avoid one Starlink satellite in July and another in October.

The complaint prompted a social media backlash againstMr Musk.

Several social media commentators raised the idea of sanctions or boycotts against SpaceX and Tesla.

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