September 7, 2017 10:00 am JST

Taiwan gets a big boost from its first self-developed satellite

Officials hope to see space industry take off using entirely homegrown components

DEBBY WU, Nikkei staff writer

TAIPEI Taiwan's space industry received a big boost after the successful launch of its first self-developed satellite.

Hours after the Formosat-5 earth observation satellite lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, senior Taiwanese officials expressed hope that the event will help the island develop its own space industry.

"Space is now a field that Taiwan can participate in, and we hope we can become internationally competitive in the future," Chen Liang-gee, Taiwanese minister of science and technology, told reporters. "We will try to commercialize our space technology, and help local component makers enter the industry."

Taiwan spent 5.7 billion New Taiwan dollars ($189 million) to build the satellite, Chen said.

The satellite is notable in that it is almost entirely homegrown. According to Wang Yeong-her, president of National Applied Research Laboratories, Formosat-5 was designed exclusively by Taiwanese engineers, with 70% of the hardware coming from local component makers. Importantly, it is equipped with a complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, or CMOS, image sensor designed by NARLabs, which received production support from domestic chipmakers, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.

"It is important to develop our own key components [even if] it may be expensive to do so. As soon as we have such capabilities, then it will also become easier to acquire these key components from foreign suppliers," Wang told the Nikkei Asian Review. "Very often, foreign companies will not sell us the components we need."

Formosat-5 is expected to transmit its first photo in a month, said Wang, whose NARLabs is deeply involved in Taiwan's satellite program as part of the government's ministry of science and technology.

Launch of the satellite had been postponed for more than a year. The delay came after the Falcon-9 rocket -- developed by U.S. entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX and chosen as the launch vehicle -- exploded during a test last year. Facebook's Amos-6 communications satellite was destroyed in the blast.

SpaceX had to pay a $2.1 million penalty for the delay, about 9% of what the Taiwanese government paid the U.S. space exploration company to work on the project, according to Wang.

Taiwan's next satellite, Formosat-7, a joint collaboration with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be launched by SpaceX in 2018, Chen said.

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