An Exclusive Interview with Jack Chen from Industrial Computer to Aerospace Innovation

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The FORMOSAT-8 (FS-8) satellite, which will be launched in 2024, is the first pilot high-resolution optical remote sensing satellite planned and developed in accordance with Taiwan’s “Third Phase of the National Space Science and Technology Development Long-term Plan.” The primary purpose of the plan is to independently develop a domestic high-resolution remote sensing instrument that can be massively produced. A key component of the satellite, the image observation module, is self-developed by a local aerospace startup company, Liscotech System Pty Ltd (hereinafter referred to as “Liscotech”).

Despite a history of just over 6 years, Liscotech has already become popular in the computer market within the aerospace industry. Jack Chen, CEO & Founder of the company, accepted an exclusive interview with the GASE team, during which he shared how he committed to the aerospace industry simply because of an overseas industrial computer order.

A satellite layman enters the aerospace industry

Jack Chen, CEO & Founder of Liscotech, has worked in the computer components and industrial PC industry for over 30 years. In 2015, he co-founded Liscotech with his partner, Jacky Huang, to develop optical systems for satellites.

Mr. Chen said that when Liscotech was just established, it was engaged by a group of customers who had previously served at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and later established their own space industry company after seeing the opportunity to commercialize satellites. During their trip to find electronic circuits in Taiwan, these customers found Mr. Chen’s team by chance and placed an order for a set of optical modules for satellites. “At that time, we didn’t know what a satellite was, and therefore, developed the modules according to the specifications of industrial computers. However, based on today’s specification, the size of that module was half the size of a satellite!”

Mr. Chen and his friends initially quoted a price higher than that of traditional industrial products. Although they thought it was going to be significantly profitable, they ended up losing money from the deal. “The standard production and sales model of traditional industrial computers does not apply to the aerospace industry. This is because satellite products are both small in volume and highly customized. In addition, the special environment of space requires substantial investment in research and development, system integration, and after-sales service, which greatly increases the hidden cost. Therefore, even though we later tripled the price in the quote, it still did not cover the product’s actual value.”     

The customer, who bought the image processing board at US $400, sold it to National Space Organization (NSPO) at a price of US$10,000. “What’s more surprising is that NSPO asked the customer why the board was so cheap, as even at a price of US$10,000, the product was still considered extremely cheap in the aerospace industry.” Nevertheless, Mr. Chen remains grateful for this money-losing “deal,” because the customer introduced him to NSPO. Seeing opportunities in the aerospace market, Mr. Chen applied for the National Venture Fund and started a production and research cooperation with the NSPO.  

Industry–university–institute cooperation to improve the research and development power

Located at the NanKang Biotech Incubation Center, Nangang District, Taipei City, Liscotech has recruited a wide range of talent with specialties including chip design, mechanical components, algorithms, and system integration. The limited space is filled with various optical, system integration, and electronic precision machinery.

Mr. Chen said that although the aerospace industry was a part of industrial applications, the startup team did not even know what a “satellite” was. However, the research and development power of Liscotech has since been strengthened by forging industry–university–institute cooperation with the NSPO, National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, Swedish space companies, and domestic and foreign universities. “There are no standards in the aerospace industry, making it difficult to buy ready-made products. In addition, since outer space has an environment that is totally different to what the earth has, for many components, the manufacturer has to independently design special circuits and optimize programs. The aforementioned cooperation has greatly helped Liscotech’s technology development and application during the early days.”

Participation in developing the imaging module of FS-8

The cooperation with overseas manufacturers has greatly facilitated the expansion of Liscotech in the local market. After having overcome technical boundaries and mastered space application specifications, Liscotech was selected by the National Space Organization to participate in the development of the imaging module of the FS-8 satellite, which is expected to be launched in 2024 to acquire images of the earth.

Mr. Chen was proud of the fact that Liscotech was selected for the research and development of FS-8, which was not easily achievable for a newly established company. Owing to the commercialization of the aerospace industry in recent years, the company works on 2–3 projects on developing satellites’ optical systems simultaneously. In addition, rather than passively taking orders, the company has now transitioned to develop standard products and make proactive proposals to customers.
To gain customers’ trust, even after a project is completed, Liscotech will still send staff to continue research and development of the same product line. Since its establishment, Liscotech has participated in the development of the sensing instruments of 6 satellites made by various international space companies in countries such as Sweden and Argentina. Other products include Star Tracker, satellite computers, and satellite temperature control and power management units. The company’s customer base is also steadily increasing to include Argentinian Satellite company Satellogic, NASA, and the European Space Agency (ESA).  

Developing systems and integrating powers to seize business opportunities in space
Mr. Chen realized that while many upstream material and component manufacturers in Taiwan had experience in supplying large space factories, they were still considered subcontract manufacturers rather than space companies, making it difficult to form local industrial clusters.

With the commercialization of low-orbit communication satellites and monitoring satellites, business opportunities in the space communication industry have attracted substantial attention. The aerospace industry has been listed one of Taiwan’s six core industries, while the Space Development Act released in 2021 has become the legal basis for Taiwan’s space development.

Mr. Chen expects that under the joint efforts of the industry, government, university, and institutions, a united satellite manufacturer that can effectively integrate the supply chain of the domestic space industry and take international orders can be established. This company is expected to help subcontractors' products enter the market, and on this basis, promote the development of satellite manufacturing industrial clusters, thereby effectively increasing the output value of the satellite industry. He believes that the mature semiconductor and telecommunications industries in Taiwan would become a secure support of the space industry.

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