What is Taiwan's positioning in the new era of space exploration?

Allen Hsieh, Taipei; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

You-qian Luo, director of the International Cooperation Office at TASA. Credit: DIGITIMES

In the past, the forefront of space development was primarily occupied by governments. However, in recent years, there has been a gradual shift towards private enterprises taking the lead, ushering in a new era of commercialization in space exploration. A prime example is SpaceX, which currently manages a constellation of approximately 4,000 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, making it the global leader in satellite ownership among private companies and offering satellite services on a global scale.

According to You-qian Luo, the director of the International Cooperation Office at the Taiwan Space Agency (TASA), as an emerging player in this evolving space landscape, Taiwan is well-positioned to embrace a multitude of international collaborative opportunities. Taiwan has the potential to engage in various facets of the space industry, including satellite deployment and manufacturing, and it won't be the sole participant in this new space era.

Axel Collin, the strategic planning and sales operations specialist of Dassault Systèmes, elucidates that in this emerging space era, private companies have grown substantially in size and have gained greater autonomy. They are now capable of launching a significant number of satellites, such as Starlink, Kuiper, and OneWeb, with markedly increased launch frequencies for high orbit satellites compared to the past. This expansion has also given rise to related operational services, such as orbit management, satellite debris monitoring, and over-the-air (OTA) software updates. This heightened involvement presents a plethora of opportunities for space startups. Driven by private enterprises, LEO satellites are being equipped with advanced capabilities, rendering space data analysis, resource management, supply chain logistics, and other applications of utmost importance.

When it comes to Taiwan, the country's well-established industries, including information technology, semiconductor manufacturing, precision engineering, and chemical materials, are all capable of bolstering the space industry. As the global space sector experiences rapid growth, Taiwan's strengths contribute significantly to its international standing.

In the realm of startup accelerators, Luo notes that each accelerator specializes in specific domains, such as deep space exploration, providing a wide array of options for Taiwanese startups. He recommends that Taiwan leverage its existing strengths, particularly in semiconductor manufacturing, to attract both domestic and international integrated circuit (IC) design companies, with a focus on space-grade chips as a central theme. This strategy would enable Taiwan to attract international resources, foster complementary relationships, and expedite the development of its space accelerator, all while establishing its unique identity.

Moreover, Luo underscores that while many Taiwanese space startups seek opportunities abroad, Taiwan should concurrently strive to attract international startups to establish themselves within the country. This approach not only draws fresh talent but also addresses the funding requirements of international startups.

Given that space startups have substantial capital needs, Taiwan's infrastructure, including its semiconductor and electronics manufacturing capabilities, can be a compelling incentive for international startups. If these international startups seek additional funding from other international sources, it also results in capital flowing into Taiwan. Consequently, rather than witnessing potential startups depart, Taiwan should actively nurture its own startups, including those with international potential.

Luo emphasizes that Taiwanese startups should not shy away from international endeavors but rather establish a firm presence in Taiwan, considering the long-term development of Taiwan's space industry as the cornerstone. This approach is pivotal in defining Taiwan's role and sustaining innovation in the space sector.