Taiwan-based LEO satellite suppliers note increasing inquiries since 2023

Misha Lu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: Wiki Commons

As low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite network operators worldwide step up satellite launches, Taiwan-based suppliers of LEO components are waiting for a new wave of relevant orders. Sources in the supply chain have already noted an increase in inquiries, beginning in 2023.

In terms of volume, Taiwan-based suppliers are mainly depending on the orders from Starlink, since satellite launches from other players remain small in proportion as they go through trials. According to Taiwan-based suppliers, however, the recent growth of order inquiries are not limited to LEO satellites: demands for geosynchronous and medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites are also rising. Inquiries on beamforming technology are on the rise as well, sources noted.

Theoretically, given the fixed position of geosynchronous satellites, one doesn't have to constantly readjust the receivers on the ground. However, when it comes to maritime satellite communications, the unsteady sea surfaces pose an exceptional challenge for receivers. Traditionally, mechanical satellite dishes can tackle the issue, but their hefty nature has given rise to lighter and nimbler alternatives in the form of array antennas. Taiwan-based suppliers noted rising inquiries for array antenna solutions.

Overall, as pointed out by Dr. Wu Tsung-shin, currently the director general of Taiwan Space Agency, Taiwan's industry lacks system integration capabilities despite its advantage in component manufacturing and cost controls. Sources familiar with the sector also believe that system integration is the key for Taiwan-based suppliers, now mostly confined to supplying ground equipment, to get their products into orbit.

Cubesats, a class of miniaturized satellites, is a market especially targeted by Taiwan-based manufacturers seeking a foothold in the space industry. Since Taiwan has no independent rocket launch capabilities, aspiring domestic suppliers have become attracted by cubesats as their lower manufacturing and launch costs offer cheaper venues for product verification.

Even for ground equipment, which has less stringent requirements compared to space-bound products, the proven ability to establish stable connection with satellites is also crucial for international adoption, making cubesats an attractive testing medium.

Despite the advantages they offer, cubesat manufacturing nevertheless accounts for a tiny portion of an industry that sees its output divided between satellite communication service and ground equipment manufacturing. In comparison, launch service and satellite manufacturing account for less than 10% of the total output, not to mention the niche application of cubesats. Therefore, for Taiwan-based suppliers to have a sustainable presence in the cubesat market, their business models will inevitably tilt toward offering value-added services instead of mere manufacturing.