China is considering massively increasing its network of surveillance and observation satellites to cover the entire planet.

According to the South China Morning post, if it went ahead with the plan, more than 50 observation satellites could be put in orbit in as few as two years. This would put the country’s satellite surveillance network on par or even larger than that of the United States.

The move was reportedly fuelled by China’s frustration with the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) aircraft.

Taken by Thailand's observation satellite this image shows about 300 floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean scattered over an area about 2,700 kilometres southwest of Perth. --AFP Photo

"If we had a global monitoring network today, we wouldn't be searching in the dark. We would have a much greater chance to find the plane and trace it to its final position," said Professor Chi Tianhe, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth.

According to estimates from experts in the mainland’s space industry, a satellite costs about 400 million yuan (RM210 million) to build, which could mean the whole project could cost up to 20 billion yuan.

There are currently more than 1,000 satellites in orbit with most of them for communication purposes. Of these, around 150 are for earth-observation, remote-sensing and military-surveillance, according to statistics from the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

China’s current satellite surveillance capabilities are a state secret, though most of them are thought to be carrying out surveillance over China and the surrounding region.