With the passing of the Space Development Promotion Act in June, Taiwan has been officially ready to launch itself into a new space age, and explore the opportunities created by the rise of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
Taiwan’s strength in semiconductors and electronics manufacturing gives it a good head start. As of 2019, there were 898 companies in Taiwan related to the space industry. Most of them were ground equipment suppliers, specialized in antennas, communication modules and power supplies. For example, Microelectronics Technology and Kinpo Electronics, both designers and manufacturers of communication equipment, have found their way into the SpaceX supply chain.
Instead of focusing on the space industry, however, most of these companies were merely supplying products to foreign buyers as well as Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO), a key coordinator of Taiwan’s space program. Dr. Shiann-Jeng Yu, the director of NSPO, noted that the shorter lifespan of LEO satellites, thus the frequent need for replenishment, had drawn the interest of these suppliers – much like what smartphones had done.
Despite the enthusiasm, there are still obstacles to overcome. Wang Mei-Hua, the Minister of Economic Affairs, indicated that Taiwan’s satellite ground equipment industry had a self-sufficiency rate of 40%, and her ministry aimed to raise it to 80%.
Beyond the ground equipment, Taiwanese suppliers also seek entry into other sectors of the satellite industry, facing even more challenges. Since Taiwan has no prior experience of manufacturing LEO communications satellites, the Ministry of Science and Technology has started a four-year, US$142 million project to launch its first LEO communications satellite in 2025.
One crucial challenge is to get products validated for space applications, especially when Taiwan still has no rocket launch capability. Here, the NSPO plays a vital part. The organization not only coordinates Taiwan’s space program, but also lays the foundation of the country’s space industry.
In order to streamline the validation processes for space products, the NSPO has begun to partner with other domestic institutions to provide an integrated, one-stop validation service. For companies, it offers a cheaper and more efficient alternative than sending inquiries separately, not to mention the lengthy process to have validations conducted abroad.
As Taiwan’s space industry matures, according to Director Yu, an ODM supply chain of LEO satellite might take shape, and even the emergence of integrated solutions providers. As of NSPO, it seeks to emulate Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute in the long term, conducting technology transfers to the private sector and creating spin-offs in the same way that ITRI eventually gave birth to TSMC.