President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already fulfilled his dream of creating the Turkish Space Agency, the cornerstone on which he wants to achieve his aspiration to make the Eurasian republic an influential space power.
It is little known that Turkey has a wealth of experience in the field of space, but it is a fact. Its aerospace industry and public research agencies have been involved to a greater or lesser extent in the development and manufacture of 15 spacecraft of all types and sizes that successive governments in Ankara have successfully launched into space since the beginning of the 21st century.
The first was called Bilsat-1, a small observation platform weighing 140 kilograms, which was launched around Earth in September 2003 and concluded its operational life in August 2006. It has been followed by numerous telecommunications devices belonging to the State operator Türksat and two optical observation spy satellites, Göktürk-1 and Göktürk 2.
The latter, weighing 450 kilos and manufactured domestically - with technological support from the South Korean company Satrec - was sent into space in December 2012. By contrast, Göktürk-1, weighing 1,060 kilos, was manufactured by the French-Italian company Telespazio and launched in December 2016 after suffering numerous delays.
On each occasion, the Ankara authorities drew various lessons, two of which have been taken into account. The first is that space platforms have become indispensable tools for providing intelligence to their armed forces in the various armed conflicts in which they are involved, for securing their borders and for boosting the economy, and therefore the creation of a major national satellite industry should be encouraged.
The second lesson is that, as far as possible, reliable home-made launch vehicles must be available to provide independent access to space, the only way to avoid dependence on third countries, as Turkish governments have had to do up to now.
Erdogan has met both challenges and laid the foundations for both major projects. In a major policy speech on 16 January, he stressed that “countries that do not reach space will not have a voice on earth in the future” and unveiled a series of major infrastructure and technology initiatives for the coming years. Among them is the placing of several satellites in orbit as part of the new National Space Programme that will run until 2030.
The speech came as the Turkish economy was beginning to recover from the ongoing crisis, allowing Erdogan to announce that the Türksat 5A communications satellite would be launched into space in the third quarter of 2020, Türksat 5B the following year and Türksat 6a in 2022. A small military radar satellite called Göktürk 3 is scheduled, but was not cited.
He also announced that the new devices would reach outer space aboard rockets purchased from American billionaire Elon Musk, the founder of the Tesla automobile brand and of the SpaceX company, manufacturer of the low-cost Falcon 9 launch vehicles that compete with the more expensive European Ariane 5 rocket.
Meanwhile, he is financing the development of at least two launchers by Rocketsan, one of the weapons manufacturers that leads the country's defense and aerospace sector. On the one hand there is the UFS program -acronyms of the Turkish Uydu Fırlatma Sistemi-, a rocket of about 30 meters high to send satellites of few hundreds of kilos to approximately 700 kilometres.
Roketsan is also working on the MUFS - Micro Uydu Firlatma Sistemi - a rocket of different design and about 22 metres to deliver 100-kilogram satellites to a height of 400 kilometres. Both initiatives are under the Ministry of National Defence and require the construction of launch bases, production and test facilities.
However, reality rules and, for the time being, the Turkish leader has had no choice but to avoid officially approving the National Space Program, while waiting to assess the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that already affects more than 74,000 Turks and has caused the death of nearly two thousand.
Erdogan has already fulfilled the promises of the Justice and Development Party he leads. On the one hand, to found a government space agency to lead and coordinate the entire national space sector. On the other hand, to appoint a person capable of fulfilling the aspirations of the Turkish state at the helm. That man is Serdar Huseyn Yildirim, appointed on August 7 as the head of the Turkish Space Agency or TUA, an acronym for the Turkish Türkiye Uzay Ajansi.
Serdar Huseyin Yildirim is an accredited professional in the aviation sector. He is an aeronautical engineer from the Technical University of Istanbul and has a Master's degree in aerospace technology from the Technical University of Berlin. He has been the General Manager of the State Airport Authority (DHMI) and the Department of Aeronautical and Space Technologies of the Ministry of Transport.
Based in Ankara and with a strong civil background, the agency headed by Yildirim is financially and administratively autonomous but subordinate to the Ministry of Science and Technology. Working closely with the Tübitak Space Technology Research Institute, TUA aims to define the mid- and long-term objectives, establish a strong national space industry base and allocate resources for advancing science and technology in the space sector.
Among its tasks are also to help develop satellite technologies, to produce equipment and components for the international space industry, to develop national launch capabilities and associated infrastructure in order to reduce external dependence and to position Turkey as an aspiring space power.