Coming Age of Space What are the Turkish Space Agency`s Priorities

Turkish Space Agency President Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM gave important insight on the activities to be performed before the Introduction of the National Turkish Space Program.

Tarih: Issue 104 - February 2021

Satellite Technologies Week opened on January 7th and lasted three days closing on the 9th.  The event was organized by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.   Opening speeches were made by Dr. Umut Yıldız, GUHEM General Manager Astrophysicist Halit MIRAHMETOĞLU, Malaysian First Astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar SHUKO and, Rocket Scientist Dr. Arif KARABEYOĞLU. In the second half of the day Turkish Space Agency President Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM delivered a speech under the title “What do we do to have a say in the Space Age?”

In his speech, YILDIRIM talked about the establishment process of the Turkish Space Agency (TSA), the Turkish Space Program and clarified many outstanding questions and concerns in a live stream.

In the first part of his speech, YILDIRIM referred to the establishment process of the Space Agency and said: “The Space Agency was founded with a Presidential decree at the end of 2018. Upon all necessary appointments, we have been active since November 2019. As the TSA, we have critical responsibilities assigned to us. We have strived to progress at a fast pace within a year. We will get even faster.”

Making brief explanations about the TURKSAT 5A satellite to be launched within the next days, other satellites in orbit and the satellites to be launched in the forthcoming period, YILDIRIM continued his speech as follows: “TURKSAT has had significant experience in satellites for years. Currently, 3 satellites are active and our fourth satellite will be launched. Then, as far as I know, our TURKSAT 5B satellite is planned to be launched in the second half of this year. There may be some technical or weather-related problems, but we can say that our 5B satellite will be launched in the second half of the year. With the launch of these two satellites, we will further strengthen our space activities. We will be achieving a major capacity/capability. These satellites to be launched are new technology satellites, which will enable our country to become more effective and secure in communication. We look forward to the launch of these satellites. Taking the opportunity to meet these needs with domestic and national resources is one of the key duties of our agency. Our country has experience spanning many years in satellite manufacturing. Our RASAT and GÖKTÜRK-2 national satellites continue to perform in their orbits for national requirements. Our TÜRKSAT 6A communication satellite is being manufactured with a local content rate nearly 60%, which is a very critical success. This satellite is planned to be launched in 2022.”

Underlining the need to also take a step toward the development and manufacturing of scientific satellites in addition to communications satellites, YILDIRIM said, “There are scientific satellites launched to space for scientific purposes, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, that make observations, conduct research in deep space, and try to understand the universe. Currently, Turkey does not own such a satellite. However, as the TSA, we have such a project. In the near future, we hope our scientific satellites will also be launched to space.” 

Noting that the positioning, navigation and timing satellites, also known as GPS satellites, operate with a network of more than 24 satellites, and that there are 4 global and 2 regional systems in the world, YILDIRIM added that Turkey also must take steps in this regard and that they continue their work as the TSA to this end. 

Stating that satellites have started to get smaller in size with developments in technology, consequently providing a considerable advantage to countries with limited resources, YILDIRIM said, “As satellites develop technologically, they are also getting smaller in size. These satellites can fall below 1 ton or even 100 kilograms and still they can perform the same task. Accordingly, the launch costs drop due to this volumetric shrinkage. 

“SPACE-X Company, with the Starlink project, a globe-encircling constellation of spacecraft that beam affordable, high-speed internet across the earth, continues its satellite launch efforts to close orbit with 12,000 satellites. They have currently exceeded 1,050 and are aiming to reach 12,000 satellites within 1-2 years. Likewise, Blue Origin a company owned by Jeff Bezos, the owner of the well-known company Amazon, is carrying out a project to build a system with 3,000 satellites and they have even started launching. In short, we will be facing very critical developments in space. I have this slogan: “Those who do not have a trace in space will have no say across the globe.” We have literally entered such a period. In this regard, our country is about to take important steps, being aware of the requirements. With our space program, which will soon be declared by our President, we will promptly put our particular efforts into effect,” added YILDIRIM.

Pointing out that in-space manufacturing will start in the near future, YILDIRIM said, “Robotic manufacturing in space will start where robots will be operating on platforms installed in low earth orbit. As the Turkish Space Agency, we started our talks with companies operating in this field. We also want to take part in such projects as a partner and we believe this will contribute a lot to our country.”

Touching also upon the shortage of human resources in space studies in Turkey, YILDIRIM said, “We lagged a little behind in this race, but we aim to close this gap in a very short time. We want to close this gap rapidly with firm steps. I agree that our human resources are very limited; we need a large number of skilled people with an expertise in space. We want to bring our qualified brains working in this sector to our country through reverse brain drain. We have initiatives through our Ministry and we also have an idea to temporarily employ foreign experts to a certain extent. We can speed up the process with this approach.”

Pointing to the importance of international cooperation in order to gain momentum in this field, YILDIRIM said, “Even countries such as the US, Russia and China in the world do not prefer to conduct space studies on their own because it is both expensive and risky, therefore they prefer to cooperate internationally. Within this framework, we, as the TSA, hold talks with 20 countries and we have signed agreements with some of them. We are working on draft agreements with 5-6 countries and we have preliminary negotiations with nearly 10 countries. What will all of this offer? It will provide advantages in terms of developing our own human resources by providing scientific cooperation between universities. It will provide experience and technology transfer. It will also facilitate conducting joint big-budget projects. In fact, we have many projects at hand. After the introduction of the space program, we will publicize all these projects.”

YILDIRIM said that the private sector’s involvement in space activities in Turkey is very critical and added: “If the private sector is not involved in space studies, then we will have difficulties in this journey. We need the dynamism of the private sector, but the involvement of the state is of course the sine qua non. The state will take the lead in such studies. We want to take advantage of the dynamics in the private sector. I visited many clusters and companies and after the announcement of our program, I believe the interest of the private sector will quickly gain steam and many companies will participate in these activities. For this to happen, companies certainly need to see strategy and stability, and we will ensure this. We wish to improve our ecosystem.”

YILDIRIM informed the audience that they have also been working on increasing the number of observatories in Turkey and he added: “Space studies started by observing from the ground, in other words from observatories. We have a national observatory in Antalya within the body of TÜBİTAK. In addition to our existing infrastructures, a new observatory is being built in Eastern Anatolia. It is built on a hill at an altitude of 3,170 m in Erzurum. It will fill an important gap with a primary mirror of 4 m in diameter. With such a capability increase, space sciences such as astronomy and astrophysics should also be supported in our country. We should create favorable circumstances for our young people who have career aspirations in this area, those who prefer academic departments in basic sciences such as physics, mathematics, astrophysics, etc., and this will be one of our Agency's duties. We should establish an environment that will enable our young people who graduate in basic sciences to find a job and carve a smooth path for young people. I think this is very important and it is also among our goals to support our universities in achieving development in this regard.”

YILDIRIM also touched upon the Space Law issue in the last part of his speech. “While carrying out all these studies, they need to be established on a legal basis. The number of objects in space is increasing rapidly and it is mandatory to establish a law and it has been studied in the presence of the United Nations for a long time. Countries have not yet established their national space laws. There are only a few countries that have already established these types of laws. Most countries are waiting for the studies of the United Nations on this issue. According to the framework that will be developed, countries are planning to establish their national legislation. We are also at the exact same point. With our experts, we actively follow the necessary studies by the UN closely and are in contact with them. I'm happy to say that many attorneys in our country are interested in this field. We have few but well-trained experts dealing with space law. We will perform the necessary work both in the preparation and maintenance of national legislation. Because if you do not claim specific rights in a timely manner and do not acquire them, it becomes very difficult to acquire them later. So we should not miss this.”

In the Q&A session, YILDIRIM also clarified whether there is an overlapping task with Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) and said, “As the TSA, we are on the civilian side. We are not on the military and security side. Collaboration and coordination with the SSB is always possible. We do the coordination, we stay informed, but we avoid entering each other's domain.”

YILDIRIM concluded his speech by responding to the criticism he received due to the fact that the Agency’s website had not been updated for a long time. “The TSA's brand value will strengthen over time. We have been criticized a lot for not having a website despite being active over a year. In fact, we have a website; all the preparations have already been made, but we have to wait for our President's announcement of our introduction program. Our website will become active upon the announcement of this program. We will share detailed information with the public. We will also receive ideas and feedback via this website. We will be interactive. I place great importance on the criticism to be made, provided that is constructive. We would also like the reason for the delay to be understood.”