WUHAN, China—Testing at China's first smart manufacturing plant for satellites has begun here, with production scheduled to begin in March. Zou Guangbao, general manager of CASIC Space Engineering Development, says that design and construction of the plant took 429 days. When it reaches full manufacturing capacity, it will be capable of making 240 small satellites a year.

Liu Feng, one of the plant's project managers, says building a satellite involves dozens of steps, ranging from component installation and satellite assembly to electronic and mechanical tests, and the current production method requires all of them to be carried out manually.

"By comparison, our plant uses robots to perform major steps, which means we can improve the average manufacturing efficiency for satellites by more than 40 percent," says Liu.

Plans previously published by CASIC Space Engineering Development said the initial task of the new plant will be to produce small satellites to realize CASIC's Hongyun program, which aims to operate a network of more than 150 communications satellites.

The program, begun by CASIC in September 2016, will establish a satellite system to provide broadband internet connectivity to users around the world, especially those in underserved regions. The first Hongyun satellite was launched atop a Long March 11 carrier rocket in December 2018 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China.

CASIC Space Engineering Development is a Wuhan-based subsidiary of State-owned defense giant China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp.