China NewSpace No. 4: Finally, a Coronavirus Issue (sort of)

Welcome back to China NewSpace, your weekly look into the Chinese private space industry. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.

First, a particular welcome to my new subscribers; to see how many people have subscribed from all over the world to read what I’ve written about such a niche topic is both exciting and humbling.

So, I picked a terrible time to get sick. Apologies for missing a couple of weeks, but I was out of commission for a bit. I’m just not sure whether I should be hoping that it was or wasn’t coronavirus.

There has been so much space-related news in the past couple of weeks that it’s hard to distill it down. I mean, Tom Cruise is going to space, but alas we are but a humble China newsletter and must avoid the celebrity stuff.


Speaking of coronavirus recoveries, this week’s translation is an article from the 21st Century Business Herald that looks into a couple different indices that were created using satellite data to monitor China’s recovery from the coronavirus recession.

WeBank has some cool graphics

Some Highlights:

  • Two Chinese entities, China Merchants Bank and WeBank have put out economic indices based on satellite data

  • China Merchants Bank subsidiary CMB Wealth Management has released the Night Light Industrial Resumption Index

  • WeBank, an online private Chinese bank founded in 2015 through an investment by Tencent, among others, has released the China Economic Recovery Index (CERI)

  • CERI is created by WeBank’s Moonshot team, which has a page (conveniently in English)  that promises two products: “An Investment Research Platform engined with Remote Sensing and Satellite Imageries Data” and “An ESG Risk Analysis Platform fuelled with Artificial Intelligence and Alternative Data.”

  • WeBank combines data from visible light, infrared radiation, as well as sentiment data scraped from the internet

Wu Haishan, deputy general manager of the artificial intelligence department at WeBank makes some interesting points:

  • Asset managers overseas have used satellite data for several years, but it’s just in its infancy in China

  • The era of being able to profit directly from satellite data is now over because it’s so freely available. Future added value will come from integrating that data with other alternative datasets

You can read the full article here.

Interesting Links: non-Chinese efforts

I found some articles that I think help contextualize WeBank and CMB’s projects by looking at non-Chinese programs that do similar things.

  1. Quartz: Doubtful of China’s economic numbers? Satellite data and AI can help

American company SpaceKnow has the Chinese Satellite Manufacturing Index (SMI), which uses the infrared sensors from satellites along with machine learning algorithms to estimate manufacturing activity

Another American company, Orbital Insight, uses imagery to track China’s oil supply stored in above-ground oil tanks

  1. Bloomberg Quint: Space Data Shows China’s Economic Recovery From Virus

Finnish nonprofit Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air used NASA satellite data on pollution levels to show that China’s economy is still far from a recovery

  1. MIT Sloan Review: Monitoring the COVID-19 Crisis From Space

In Switzerland, the University of St. Gallen’s Global Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation “analyzed light emissions data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), a joint endeavor by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA” to track the economy in China and show that self-isolation in China began before the government imposed lockdowns, especially in the north

News Roundup

Since satellite internet was added to the definition of “new infrastructure,” there’s been a lot of activity lately in this space. Andrew Jones at SpaceNews has a great rundown of recent developments. Some highlights:

  • Beijing-based Commsat announced it raised $38 million in series B funding to develop internet satellite

  • State-owned telecoms firm China Unicom has started developing satellite internet through a stake in UnicomAirNet

May 9: The Telegraph reported that two Chinese firms are among those that have bid for the assets of OneWeb, the satellite company based in the UK and US that recently filed for bankruptcy

May 9: Galactic Energy reported a successful test of a rocket engine

May 12: SpaceNews reported that the vice commander of the US Space Force said that the US government is interested in securing funding for US space companies during the coronavirus recession to ensure they don’t end up controlled by America’s adversaries (like OneWeb above)

Note: The US already has a process for blocking such investments, CFIUS, so this sounds to me like the US government is just trying to shore up American companies before they even get to that point

May 13:  Landspace conducted a 200 second test of its "Tianque" 80-ton liquid oxygen methane engine for the Zhuque 2 launch vehicle

Until next time

My name is Cory Fitz and I write the China NewSpace newsletter. To better understand China’s young and rapidly growing private space industry, China NewSpace will bring you translations of topical Chinese-language blog posts, articles, etc., as well as a roundup of interesting links and relevant news.

If you have any comments for me, feel free to contact me at

You can also find me on Twitter at @cory_fitz