SpaceX rocket launch explosion a setback for LEO satellite supply chain

Julian Ho, Taipei; Rodney Chan, DIGITIMES Asia 0

SpaceX's Starship rocket self-destructed after launch on April 20th, 2023. Credit: AFP

The midair explosion of a SpaceX Starship rocket soon after launch in a test flight has come as a setback to the low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite market though it remains rosy in the long term.

The LEO satellite supply chain needs the availability sufficient rockets to keep its momentum going, industry sources said.

Taiwanese companies in the SpaceX supply chain include: networking component and module makers Wistron NeWeb and Universal Microwave Technology (UMT); GaAs foundry house Win Semiconductors; and RF module supplier Tong Hsing Electronic, the sources said.

Sources familiar with the semiconductor packaging and testing sector said there has been some delays in rocket developments at a US client. For their suppliers, their product developments are also being delayed, the sources added.

UMT is a supplier for many major LEO satellite firms, including SpaceX, and it stands a good chance of seeing a 23–25% growth for its LEO-related product segment, the sources said. But there are some concerns. In 2022, SpaceX saw delays in the development of many supporting modules, which prevented UMT from moving beyond the stage of product sampling, the sources said. Although UMT started shipments to SpaceX in March, the Starship launch incident means explosive growths for the LEO satellite market may not come anytime soon.

Wistron NeWeb reportedly has entered the SpaceX supply chain for customer premises equipment (CPE), the sources noted.

Win Semi chairman Dennis Chen told DIGITIMES in a recent interview that the Russia-Ukraine war has highlighted the importance of satellite communication. And in the coming age of Internet of Everything, there will be enormous opportunities awaiting compound semiconductors.

Tong Hsing, which is known for its backend services for automotive and handset CMOS sensors, has years of experience in RF module packaging, which covers optical communication and satellite communication segments.

Aerospace products have to undergo rigorous certification processes. Tong Hsing has been able to quickly enter the SpaceX supply chain, as it has already obtained certifications from the military product segment, the sources said.

None of the above-mentioned companies commented on the report.