Space power China to build ground stations on Antarctica to support satellites

FILE PHOTO: Astronaut Liu Yang waves as she is out of a return capsule of the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft

BEIJING (Reuters) - China, only the third country to put a man in space after the Soviet Union and United States, is to build ground stations on Antarctica to back its network of ocean monitoring satellites, state media said on Thursday.

China's global network of ground stations to support a growing number of satellites and outer space ambitions has drawn concern from some nations that it could be used for espionage, a suggestion China rejects.

In 2020, Sweden's state-owned space company, which had provided ground stations that helped fly Chinese spacecraft and transmit data, declined to renew contracts with China or accept new Chinese business due to "changes" in geopolitics.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Group Co. is to build the stations at the Zhongshan research base, one of two permanent Chinese research stations on Antarctica, after winning the tender with its 43.95 million yuan ($6.53 million) bid, state-controlled China Space News reported.

No technical details of the project were given in the report, though China Space News published two accompanying illustrations of an artist's rendering that shows four ground stations at Zhongshan, located by Prydz Bay in East Antarctica, south of the Indian Ocean.

The project was part of broader initiatives aimed at building China's marine economy and turning China into a marine power, according to China Space News.

A Chinese-built ground station in Argentina's Patagonia has stirred concerns about its purpose despite China's assurance that the station's goal is peaceful space observation and spacecraft missions.

Last year, the docking of a Chinese military survey ship, which analysts say monitors launches of satellites, rockets and missiles, at Sri Lanka's Chinese-built port of Hambantota drew loud opposition from neighbouring India concerned about potential spying.

China in October launched the last of three modules of its space station, which became the second permanently inhabited outpost in low-earth orbit after the NASA-led International Space Station.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie)