ANKARA — Turkey's procurement planners are taking new steps to further nationalize the country's planned space programs in an effort to become less reliant on foreign providers.
In early May, prime contractor Telespazio and partner Thales Alenia Space shipped the Gokturk-1 observation satellite to Turkey. The program's designated end user is the Turkish Defense Ministry.
Although the satellite was built by a European partnership, Turkish industry was involved in the system design and development and supplied system components. Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) provided parts for the payload structure; Aselsan was tasked with ground segment components, image data reception and processing. Turkey's state scientific research institute, TUBITAK, developed telecommand and telemetry ciphering devices.
The Gokturk-1 contract with the Turkish defense procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), also involved the construction of the USET satellite integration and test center in Turkey, inaugurated May 21 in a high-profile ceremony.
"With this facility we can say that Turkey is now among the countries that have a say in space programs," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the ceremony.
TAI officials say Gokturk-1 will undergo its first tests at USET this month. TAI will provide its mission module panels and perform final tests later this year. The Gokturk-1 will be launched in 2016 from French Guiana.
USET, run by TAI, was built with an investment of €100 million (US $112.6 million), TAI said in a statement, and financed jointly by Turkey's Defense Ministry, the SSM, the Transport Ministry and national satellite operator Turksat.
USET can simultaneously assemble, integrate and test satellites of up to five tons. The satellites will be shipped to launch locations from an airport operated jointly by TAI and a neighboring air base.
Earlier, in 2012, TAI launched the Gokturk-2 from China. That satellite is in service now.
TAI also is carrying out the preliminary design of the Gokturk-3, a two-phase program to build this military satellite. The company will sign a contract with SSM for production and launching in 2016. The Gokturk-3 will be Turkey's first synthetic aperture radar satellite.
In December 2014 TAI signed a contract with the Turkish government for the Turksat 6A, an X-band communications satellite. It is presently designing the satellite.
Procurement officials say that Turkey hopes to eventually become "nearly independent" of foreign providers in all satellite and space-related programs.
"This is a clearly defined government target," said one procurement official familiar with the country's space programs. "It may take some time to achieve it, but we are surely progressing in the right direction. The level of local work in many such programs would simply be unthinkable 10 years ago."
But some industry analysts remain cautious over Turkey's space ambitions.
"No doubt, the technological awareness is increasing," an Ankara-based analyst said. "So are capabilities. Still there are too many unanswered questions regarding how realistic the Turkish final target is, both technologically and commercially. I think the next several years will see involvement of many foreign players in Turkey's space-related programs, in this way or another. A self-dependent Turkish space industry is probably a too distant target."
Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.