Taiwan Launches Its Vision for the Space Industry

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Interview with Wu Jong-Shinn, Director General of the National Space Organization, and Chang Pei-Zen, Executive Vice President of the Industrial Technology Research Institute

In July 2021, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos completed a crewed space mission on the spaceship Blue Origin.  In the same year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who embarked on a three-day space trip in September with three other passengers through his space company, SpaceX. The gap between humans and space no longer seems quite as daunting and unreachable as it did in the past. The space industry is an industry with highly integrated cutting-edge technology. For Taiwan, its established semiconductor, information and communication, and smart precision machinery technology means that it already possesses the most crucial cornerstones for the development of the space industry.

Taiwan’s Space Race Developments

The Taiwanese government has been developing a national space program since 1991, starting with the proposal of the Long-term National Space Technology Development Program. With satellite development as its primary focus, the program has already seen the completion of its first two research-centered phases and the FORMOSAT-3 (or COSMIC) satellite program. The third phase of the program was approved in 2019. 

Wu Jong-Shinn, Director General of the National Space Organization (NSPO), pointed out that Taiwan has accumulated 30 years of experience in developing the space industry. It also holds the advantage in the semiconductor, precision machinery, and information and communication industries. These elements, in combination with its globally-trusted manufacturers and professional workforce, have given Taiwan a solid backing to enter the space industry. In 2020, the industry was designated by President Tsai Ing-wen as one of Taiwan’s Six Core Strategic Industries. The passage of the Space Development Act in May 2021 also signifies Taiwan’s determination towards space science and serves as a developmental framework. For a domain once centered on research, remote sensing, and weather forecasting, the recent measures in Taiwan are a telltale sign that the country aims to bridge science with industry and enter into the space market.

Wu stated that the demand for rocket and satellite components is both high and complex. Manufacturing one rocket requires 20,000-30,000 components, while a satellite requires over 10,000 components. The components themselves involve a wide range of cross-domain industries and technology including electronics, machinery, information and communication, materials, chemicals, and more. It is expected that 40,000 to 50,000 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites will be launched worldwide by 2030. To date, Taiwan has more than 30 ground segment equipment and satellite manufacturers. The safety of its space industry chain has received global recognition, and it is poised to become an important supplier in the LEO satellite industry.

Chang Pei-Zen, Executive Vice President of the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) stated that semiconductors are the key components of smart system applications. Taiwan's robust information and communication technology means that a more autonomous domestic ground segment industry is possible. This increased autonomy would then provide the necessary support for satellite development. The goal of developing the space industry is scientific development, national security, and the promotion of space and satellite industries. Two major opportunities in space development exist for Taiwan: spearheading the upgrade of existing product frameworks and specifications, and creating new types of products. 

Chang remarked that Taiwan's satellite program is divided into three sections: scientific satellites, remote sensing satellites, and communication satellites. Scientific satellites are primarily used in experiments in atmospheric physics, astrophysics, and geophysics. Remote sensing satellites are generally used for surveying resources, observing the Earth's surface, weather forecasting, disaster prevention, and more. Communications satellites facilitate mobile communication, broadband Internet access, and IoT.

Chang additionally emphasized that the development of the space industry in various countries is closely related to national cybersecurity. Developments in the space industry must not only utilize the strengths of the tech industry, but also coordinate with geopolitical relations to ensure mutual trust between Taiwan and other countries. The establishment of trust should be followed by measures to deepen such bonds and accelerate the expansion of space industry partnerships. These developments should also integrate cutting-edge technology while market opportunities and suitable business models are being sought out. The short-term goal is to accelerate international business; the long-term goal, to master key technology used in the space industry chain.

The Space Development Act Brings Focus to Taiwan's Space Industry

Wu remarked that the role of the NSPO has changed since passage of the Space Development Act. In the future, the NSPO will integrate satellite systems to promote the development of domestic upstream and downstream satellite industries. It will also establish self-sufficient satellite facilities and further cultivate domestic satellite capabilities (Triton/Wind Hunter, FORMOSAT-8, B5G/Beyond 5G, LEO communications satellite development) to quickly establish flight heritage for satellite components and subsystems.

The Space Development Act has spurred Taiwanese government ministries to integrate resources accordingly and to assist both country and industry in the development of space technology. The Act has also encouraged private investment in space enterprises and the creation of high value-added space technology industry applications. The government also anticipates that these incentive measures will help the industry align with international standards, cultivate talent, and foster new space ventures. It also expects to see local resources and talent connecting to develop local industry chains and ideal environments for local businesses.

Wu stated that at present, Taiwan's space industry is centered around the ground segment of the Global Navigation System Satellite (GNSS), which makes use of components such as antennas, communication modules, power supplies, and wires. However, as satellite technology matures, upgrading original manufacturing specifications and ensuring passage through product testing and verification will be essential. Since 2019, the NSPO has been gathering resources to create the most comprehensive verification site in Taiwan, helping Taiwanese factories to streamline the verification process. Wu believes that the future of Taiwan's space industry lies in space components. The government is currently launching its Beyond 5G (B5G) communications satellite program and plans to invest NT$4 billion over the next four years. The goal is to launch Taiwan's first home-built LEO communications satellite in 2025, a move that will enable Taiwan to enter important supply chains worldwide. Improvements to the LEO satellite communication systems environment and the promotion of satellite and space-related industries will also be implemented as part of the program.

Chang stated that Taiwan has three decades-worth of experience in the space industry. Its vision for the industry can be seen in the promulgation of the Act for the Establishment of the National Space Organization. As the first national space law in Taiwan, the Space Development Act clearly defines the business scope of the NSPO, including the development and implementation of national space science and technology programs; space science and technology R&D, technology transfer, and value-added applications; the promotion of international exchange in space science and technology; and the research of international space laws and regulations. The NSPO is also responsible for the designation and operation of national launch sites, the registration of launch and space vehicles, the review of launch vehicle launch licenses, and talent training as well as the promotion of space science in education. The advancement of these areas will allow Taiwan to play a role in the next generation of development for key satellite technology. It can be said that the legislation of the Space Development Act is a symbol of Taiwan's determination to join the space industry and strengthens its scientific research capabilities.

Industry-Government-Academia and Inter-Ministerial Collaboration to Foster Talent 

With the legal foundation laid by the Space Development Act, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), the Ministry of Education (MOE), and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MTC) will actively collaborate to promote the development of forward-looking technology by private enterprises and strengthen the competitiveness of Taiwan's space satellite industry. Wu stated that the government is vertically integrating resources from various ministries, the space industry, academic research centers, and universities to take stock of Taiwan's space development capabilities and to establish space technology on the home front. Among them, basic talent cultivation is crucial. At present, aerospace-related departments have been established in National Cheng Kung University, Tamkang University, and Feng Chia University. Wu stressed that in addition to strengthening basic space education and the space equipment in existing departments, research institutes dedicated to space systems engineering should also be created to recruit cross-disciplinary talent from departments such as electronics, communications, information, and engineering.

Wu also remarked that the NSPO has re-examined available space-related resources. It has also recently established a "space academy," which will lay the foundation for the development of the domestic space industry through systematic planning, and will streamline the training of in-demand space talent. 2021 was the third year of the University System of Taiwan's Space Technology and Engineering Program, a program initiated by National Central University, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, and National Tsing Hua University. Through the program, students can participate in intercollegiate space science and technology courses to build a firm foundation in both knowledge and skill development.

The courses are divided into three broad categories: basic, advanced, and industry. For basic talent cultivation, the NSPO assists universities and research institutes in training space-based talent; advanced talent cultivation is focused on the doctorate level and is led by universities and the MOE; industry-level talent cultivation consists of course offerings related to LEO satellites and the space industry, with topics including LEO communications satellites, radiation, space environment testing, and more. The courses are designed to guide industry talent to cross over from commercial fields to the space field.

Chang emphasized that the space industry has been included as one the Six Core Strategic Industries. Continued talent training for the field of space technology will be vital for Taiwan to successfully enter the global space industry. The MOEA, MOST, ITRI, and various universities are promoting industry-academia-research alliances related to the space industry through industry-government-academia-research collaboration. Joint plans have focused on fostering LEO B5G talent and integrating seed students in the space field to promote the independent R&D capabilities and international visibility of Taiwan's space industry. Chang pointed out that the third phase of the Long-Term National Space Technology Development Program (2019-2028) attaches significant importance to talent training. Active collaborations between domestic and foreign academic institutions will aim to develop outer space exploration, scientific observation missions, and instrument development. Such projects will also guide young elites to promote the industry by investing in space science and technology research.

Combining Manufacturing and ICT Prowess to Propel Space Business

The space industry has immense potential to bolster national security, economic development, livelihoods, and technological advancement. With a strong ICT foundation, cost control, and reliable and safe components, the direct output value of Taiwan's space industry had reached NT$9.2 billion as of 2020. This includes ground segment equipment, satellite manufacturing, and launch services. The output value of ground segment equipment alone has amounted to NT$8.1 billion. With the passage of the Space Development Act, the government expects that the autonomy of ground segment-related industries will reach 80% by 2025, creating an output value of NT$80 billion.

Over the next decade, NT$25.1 billion will be invested in space technology, with plans to launch one satellite per year and manufacture ten satellites. These measures have been set in a bid for Taiwan's domestic space industry to gain a firm hold on the supply of materials and components for satellites and ground segment facilities, system integration, launch services, and even satellite operations and applications. After 30 years of development, inter-ministerial efforts have resulted in the construction of a comprehensive environment for satellite communication systems. Taiwan has the fittings to master key technologies by 2030 and to become an important hub and supply chain for the global space industry. The domestic space industry is greatly anticipated to multiply its current output value. 

A new era is dawning for the global space economy as satellite functions improve by the day, especially in regard to positioning, navigation, and satellite communications. Space technology has brought great convenience for society, and its industry is set to bring even larger economic benefits. Taiwan will continue to refine its space industry chain and the ideal environment for domestic satellite manufacturers, operators, and component suppliers. It will also move to market its space industry brands to foster partnerships with international manufacturers. In addition, space satellites are closely intertwined with national defense assets. In this area, Taiwan's products have won international trust. Future plans include deepening the country's partnership with NASA and other international space industry players. As Taiwan utilizes its geographical advantages, masters the latest technology, and grows professional talent, it is only a matter of time until it secures its own position and business models in the trillion-dollar space industry.

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