Taiwan accelerates efforts to develop a local “Starlink” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Taiwan has accelerated efforts to develop a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network similar to SpaceX’s Starlink, according to a new report. The plan is headed by the National Space Center in the region and the Ministry of Digital Affairs in partnership with the private sector to launch new satellites. Dubbed the “Taiwanese version of Starlink,” the plan involves a host of different Taiwanese companies, including MediaTek, Jingpeng, Taiyang, and nearly 40 others.

Taiwan transfers space development to the Ministry of Digital Affairs in the latest budget

As part of the plan, the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan will develop the first two satellites, which will then be upgraded as a blueprint for the private sector to emulate. The goal is to have 700 ground stations in Taiwan, plus three overseas. This will reduce the region’s internet connection’s reliance on submarine cables, and according to the report, SpaceX’s Starlink effectiveness against Russian aggression in Ukraine has spurred these efforts.

Satellite Internet networks rely on three points to establish the connection. The first of these is a satellite-linked user terminal. The spacecraft then sends the user data to ground stations, which complete the link with the internet servers.

The plan’s timeline is to have 70% of satellite components manufactured domestically by the end of 2023. It is part of Taiwan’s space development plan, the third phase of which was approved in 2019, with an investment of NT$25.1 billion over a decade. Taiwan’s space agency, TASA, has already partnered with the private sector to test downlink capabilities. This is part of the third phase of the space development plan. Taiwan launched its first satellite, FORMOSAT-5 on the SpaceX Falcon 9 in 2017.

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This was followed by the launch of six FORMOSAT-7 satellites on the Falcon Heavy in 2019 – with the project carried out in partnership with the US Space Force and the bulk of its components manufactured in Taiwan by Taiwanese companies.

Taiwan’s TRITON satellite (FORMOSAT-7R) right in November 2022 as the chairman of the island’s legislature, Mr. Su Tseng-chang, visits the National Space Organization (NSPO), to celebrate the fully-functional satellite test phase. Photo: TASA

Taiwan is currently developing the TRITON satellite (FORMOSAT-7R), which is scheduled to be launched on the Arianespace rideshare mission. TRITON is a low Earth orbit (LEO) Earth observation satellite that aims to study hurricanes, wave heights and offshore wind speeds to enable the island to better cope with natural events. While officials initially stated that 87% of the satellite’s components would be made in Taiwan, that number has now been lowered to 82% – still higher than the 78% for FormOSat 5 and 7.

The head of Taiwan’s legislature, Su Tsen-chang, visited the national space organization in November 2022 where he began testing the full functionality of the new spacecraft. At the event, he paralleled Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and stated that the aerospace industry would become another “sacred mountain” to protect the island. TSMC has been called a sacred mountain in Taiwan due to its strategic importance in the global semiconductor manufacturing supply chain. The company is the world’s largest contract chip maker and responsible for supplying processors and other products to big-ticket companies like Apple.

Taiwan has a buying aerospace industry, with a host of different companies offering technologies such as space solar panels, metal oxide semiconductor sensors, landing gears, lubrication, signal transmitters, chips and structural materials. The space agency’s main focus is developing electronics testing capabilities on the island as well, with the government aiming to enable the local industry to manufacture up to 60% of all electronic components used by satellites by the end of this year.

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