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China's Geely Launches the First of 9 Low Earth Orbit Satellites That Will Help Guide its Autonomous Cars

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【Summary】Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group ("Geely") conducted its first successful satellite launch on Wednesday, sending nine satellites into orbit that will provide more accurate navigation for autonomous vehicles with centimeter level precision. Geely was granted approval in Feb 2021 to launch a network of LEO satellites that it said would support Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications for self-driving vehicles.

Eric Walz    Jun 02, 2022 11:15 AM PT
China's Geely Launches the First of 9 Low Earth Orbit Satellites That Will Help Guide its Autonomous Cars

Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group ("Geely") conducted its first successful satellite launch on Wednesday, sending nine satellites into orbit that will provide more accurate navigation for autonomous vehicles with centimeter level precision.

The satellites were launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, Reuters reported on Thursday. 

Geely, which is the parent company of Sweden's Volvo Cars, was granted approval in Feb 2021 to launch a network of LEO satellites that it said would support Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications for self-driving vehicles.

The automaker said the LEO satellites will be instrumental in improving a wide range of mobility services and V2X communications

"With the rapid pace of change in the aerospace industry and the integration of new communication technologies in different sectors such as satellite internet, autonomous driving, and cloud computing, a bright future lies ahead for commercial aerospace," said 

said Xu Zhihao, CEO of Geely Technology Group, at the satellite production launch ceremony last September.

The LEO satellites were developed entirely in-house by Geespace, a subsidiary of Geely Technology Group, and manufactured by Taizhou Xingkong Intelligent Connectivity Technology Co.,Ltd. (Taizhou Xingkong), which is also controlled by Geely Technology Group. Geespace was established in 2018 for the development, launch, and operation of low-orbit satellites.

Geely's low orbit satellites will focus on the application of "high-precision satellite positioning technology", according to Anne Xu of Geespace. 

Reuters reports that the satellites were launched using a Long March 2C rocket, also known as the "Chang Zheng 2C", which was developed and operated by state-owned entity China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

Geely plans to deploy a satellite network consisting of 240 satellites that will help its future autonomous vehicle navigate more precisely. The automaker expects another 63 to be in orbit by 2025.

Although Geely said that using low-orbit satellites would provide its vehicles with high speed internet connectivity, they will primarily be used for narrow-band IoT communications and cloud computing tasks for autonomous driving.

Geely also said its satellite network will serve other commercial functions, such as providing communication services at the Asian Games in September, according to Reuters.

Geely is not alone in its pursuit of satellite technology to support a fleet of cloud connected cars.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk is also using LEO satellites for the SpaceX Starlink network to provide internet access to rural areas. Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 and currently serves as the company's CEO and CTO. 

SpaceX intends to create a "global communications ecosystem" using Starlink satellites that Musk has compared to "rebuilding the internet in space." The Starlink satellite network can deliver high speed broadband internet to locations around the world where access has been unreliable, too expensive, or non-existent. The data transfer speeds are faster than traditional internet connections, according to Musk.

We previously reported in Nov. 2020 about the possibility of electric automaker Tesla using Starlink's satellite communications technology. For Tesla, perhaps the most important use of the Starlink service could be for connected vehicle technology, so that Tesla vehicles can communicate with other Tesla models, with infrastructure, and also the cloud to support higher levels of autonomous driving.

The Geely satellites have an operating lifespan of five years and are designed to disintegrate in earth's atmosphere without leaving any space debris just like the SpaceX Starlink satellites launched in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Geely and China's internet services company Baidu Inc announced the closing of a $400 million in Series A financing for their newly formed intelligent electric vehicle company JIDU

JiDU is a new EV joint venture that's backed by internet technology company Baidu and Geely. Baidu is often referred to as the "Google of China''. 

Baidu holds a 55% stake in JiDU while the other 45% is held by Shanghai Maple Automobile Co., Ltd., a company which Geely serves as the majority shareholder. 

As a new electric vehicle company in a highly competitive industry, JiDU's mission is to create and design a human-centric, smart robotic vehicle with AI-powered human-machine interaction technology. The vehicle will have the ability to learn and deliver superior autonomous driving capabilities, which may be further supported by a network of orbiting satellites.


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