Why is Taiwan building a satellite Internet without Elon Musk?

The Government of Taiwan has big plans to develop its own satellite Internet system. It is considered a key element of national defense in case of war with China. It is planned to create it without the participation of SpaceX or Elon Musk. However, will they be able to do it?

SpaceX launch. Source: www.nytimes.com

Taiwan creates satellite Internet

Taiwan is seriously preparing for a full-scale war with China and sees satellite Internet as one of the key elements of its defense. It will make it possible to quickly transfer information between departments, even in conditions when all conventional means of communication are not in operation.

The situation between the island and the mainland has been tense for many decades. However, in recent years it has become really critical. Taiwan’s information networks are almost constantly subjected to cyberattacks, and violations of territorial waters by the Chinese military occur almost every week.

An example here is the Matsu Islands, which belong to Taiwan, but are located off the Chinese coast. Last year, they had problems with the Internet for several months due to damage to two fiber optic cables on the seafloor. In general, China has cut them 30 times since 2017.

Satellite Internet as a solution

Over the past few years, satellite Internet has proven to be almost the only reliable solution in case of global emergencies that disable conventional communication systems. The main example here, of course, is the Russian-Ukrainian war. At the very beginning of the invasion, the invaders created a lot of problems for the Armed Forces of Ukraine by attacking the systems they used for communication and control, but the country was able to resist, including thanks to the supply of numerous Starlink terminals. 

Starlink is now considered an example of what a satellite Internet system should be like. Although, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the British company One Web are also creating something similar. However, more than half of the satellites in orbit still belong to Elon Musk.

The only problem is that Taiwan does not want to follow the path of Ukraine and rely on SpaceX in case of war. They don’t even want Musk to help them build satellites. Instead, the government of the country has set a task for public and private companies to create an analogue of Starlink.

The government of Taiwan expects that the first experimental spacecraft will be launched into orbit as early as 2026. In two more years, a second communications satellite should be launched, and then two more. At the same time, the system should work at least in test mode.

Why doesn’t Taiwan trust Musk?

Taiwan’s reasons for not trusting Elon Musk are quite serious. He has been cooperating with the Communist authorities of the People’s Republic of China for many years. His company Tesla has even opened a huge electric car assembly plant in Shanghai. Given this, there is always the possibility that he will simply block the system at a critical moment in order not to lose partners.

And Musk does not really try to provide Taiwan with Starlink. In fact, the government of the country has been trying to gain access to this technology since 2018, but SpaceX keeps hinting that it is necessary to negotiate with the government of the People’s Republic of China, which Taiwan considers separatists.

And the whole situation is well seen in the United States. SpaceX has huge contracts with the US military. Elon Musk has been repeatedly told that his position on China and business there are poorly compatible with obligations to the American government, and that this whole situation creates a hole in national defense.

Will it be possible to do without Musk

That is why Taiwan is creating a national satellite system without the participation of the billionaire and his company. Instead, they signed a joint development agreement with OneWeb. On the Taiwanese side, more than 40 companies participate in it. Together, they should create a ground infrastructure of at least 700 stations.

However, it is quite possible that they will not be able to do without SpaceX. Musk created his system for 5 years before it really worked. And the main problem was to launch so many satellites.

Musk succeeded because he had his own rocket. But Taiwan launches all its satellites with American rockets, which does not make their launches cheaper. And one of the advantages of SpaceX was that it could reuse rocket boosters and thereby reduce costs.

No one has such a thing, so even competitors are forced to buy places on his rockets. And SpaceX does not deny them this. Therefore, it is quite possible that he can at least agree on this with the government of Taiwan. However, if he cannot be persuaded even with the intervention of American officials, he will have to look for some other way.

According to www.nytimes.com

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