Can Taiwan be the manufacturing base of global LEO satellite industry?

Allen Hsieh, Taipei; Misha Lu, DIGITIMES Asia 0


The success of Starlink is driving the growth of low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite industry, and Taiwan-based electronics manufacturers have been trying to gain a larger foothold in this emerging sector.

However, the lack of common protocols, such as the 3GPP used by the telecommunication industry, is hindering the effort, driving Taiwanese suppliers to passively await orders from satellite constellation operators, instead of actively seeking such opportunities. TMY Technology, a Taiwanese company specialized in 5G beam-forming solution, is seeking to address the issue by bridging the gap between international satellite network operators and Taiwan-based suppliers.

Su-Wei Chang, founder and CEO of TMY Technology, indicated that Taiwan-based suppliers can be found in almost all the segments involved in the RF frontend modules of LEO satellites, including ICs, packaging, PCB manufacturing, and wafer-level packaging. However, apart from companies like SpaceX, which have reached enough resources at disposal, most overseas satellite operators cannot afford to build a team for on-site logistic management in Taiwan, thus preventing them from taking advantage of Taiwan's supply chain. According to Chang, TMY Technology seeks to boost the attractiveness of Taiwanese satellite supply chain and fill this gap by offering full solutions from design to manufacturing, thus matching the needs of international players with the capabilities of domestic suppliers.

So far, Taiwan-based suppliers focus on the ground segment of LEO satellite industry, as that's where the main demand for contract manufacturing service lies. Besides, a lot of time and investment are needed to make components qualified for space applications. The focus on the ground segment, according to Chang, makes it necessary for Taiwan to take up as much market share as possible - especially when other countries are potential competitors to Taiwan. As seen in the world's largest satellite expo Satellite 2023, South Korea-based Intellian Technologies and Israel-based Satixfy are both strong competitors in the sector.

As for when the LEO satellite industry will actually boom, Chang believes that the number of satellites is growing linearly, not exponentially. However, when compared with the growth rate from 5 years ago, it is now growing at a much faster rate. Ultimately, the number of satellites launched every year is the key. Though more and more companies have announced successful satellite launches, the capacity and capability still depends on SpaceX. At present, Space X can launch about 600 satellites a year.