On 12 November, Turkey’s state-owned company Roketsan, one of the largest defence contractors, announced yet another successful rocket launch from the Black Sea province of Sinop on Twitter. Commenting on the event, President Erdogan highlighted that Turkey had entered "the space league".
According to Anadolu Agency, Roketsan was tasked with implementing Turkey's space programme in 2015. The country’s first space rocket was launched in 2018, covering a distance of 130 kilometres. On 12 December, Erdogan formally established the Turkish Space Agency (TUA). One of the agency's priority tasks is the preparation of the Turkish National Space Programme for the period from 2021 to 2030. It is expected that the details of the space exploration roadmap will be revealed by the Turkish president by the end of this year.
The president of Turkey's Space Agency, Serdar Hüseyin Yildirim, has discussed the prospects for the development of the country's space industry, space exploration plans, as well as Russo-Turkish cooperation in this field in an exclusive interview with Sputnik.
Sputnik: What is Turkey's National Space Programme all about?
Yildirim: This programme reflects Turkey's main objectives, which the country has set for itself in the space field, as well as the steps which are being taken to achieve them. We work and will work together with a large number of organisations and we will share this information with the public. For example, we are currently working on almost 30 projects, and very soon the details of this work will be released. When this happens, not only the Turks but all the countries of the world will be able to assess the degree of seriousness and magnitude of the intentions of our Agency.
Sputnik: Which countries are you currently negotiating with and have any agreements been signed already?
Yildirim: To date, we have held talks with about 20 countries and these negotiations are going on. We started negotiations and signed an agreement on mutual cooperation with Ukraine, and paid a visit to the country within a month. We also have signed an agreement with Hungary. In October, a visit to Kazakhstan took place, and a bilateral agreement was signed with the country.
In addition, we are actively developing relations with such countries as Russia, Japan, China, Pakistan, India, and Azerbaijan, and soon we are planning to sign new agreements. In the future, we will continue to build contacts with many countries with which we are conducting preliminary negotiations.
Our doors are open to everyone. Space exploration is a very complex and expensive job requiring high technologies, therefore international cooperation plays a very important role in this field. Only a few countries in the world, such as the United States, China, and Russia, can carry out this work single-handedly, but even they are willing to cooperate with other states for the reasons I have named.
Turkey is not going to do this work alone. We assume that we will be able to move forward much faster if we cooperate with other countries. The agency has attracted a lot of attention in the world, exceeding our expectations. For example, Latin American countries, including Chile and Peru, have signalled their interest.
Sputnik: Among the countries you mentioned, there are those which are in conflict with each other...
Yildirim: Space is a neutral zone. Political and military conflicts are possible between countries. But they never affect space exploration. The best example of this is the cooperation between the United States and Russia. They compete in many areas, but they work together at the International Space Station (ISS).
Sputnik: Russia is closely watching Turkey's research in the space exploration field. Following talks with Turkish Ambassador to Russia Mehmet Samsar, the head of Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, announced the preparation of a Russian-Turkish intergovernmental framework agreement on cooperation in space research.
Yildirim: We also wanted to meet with Mr Rogozin, but we have not been able to hold this meeting yet due to the pandemic. Our mutual desire and intent to establish cooperation in the field of space exploration is constantly emphasised by our ambassadors and during the negotiations between the leaders of our countries.
Recently, Russian Ambassador to Turkey Alexei Erkhov visited our agency. It was an introductory meeting during which a mutual exchange of views took place; the Russian side provided us with a draft of a bilateral agreement on space cooperation. The preparation process will take some time, because it's a really large-scale agreement. We see that we can work together with Russia on cooperation in the field of space flights, satellite launches, space stations, and in other areas.
Sputnik: There is also a military aspect of this cooperation, isn't there?
Yildirim: Yes, but our agency is involved in civil research. Military projects are the brainchild of the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB). We are aware of military projects, but as an organisation we do not belong to these projects. We conduct our activities entirely within the framework of the UN treaty on the peaceful uses of outer space.
Sputnik: Earlier, the Roscosmos head announced that the Russian Space Centre is considering the possibility of training Turkish cosmonauts and sending them to the ISS. Is work on a corresponding agreement underway?
Yildirim: We all want a Turkish citizen and a Turkish flag to go into space. We are working to accomplish this task. Russia is an important partner in this matter. It possesses resources and capabilities which make it possible. In addition to Russia, the Americans are also showing interest in cooperation with us in this field. The final decision lies with our president.
Sputnik: Is there a possibility of establishing trilateral cooperation in the field of space research between Russia, Turkey, and Kazakhstan?
Yildirim: We have signed a bilateral agreement with Kazakhstan, and we will soon sign one with Russia. In addition, active cooperation is going on between Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia operates the Baikonur Cosmodrome which is located in Kazakhstan; and its working lifespan has been extended. Therefore, trilateral cooperation in terms of preparation and support of launches seems to be quite logical and reasonable.
Baikonur is one of the largest facilities which provide great opportunities. Some of the launch systems available there are not currently in use; there is a possibility of developing an investment and joint use model. However, to this end, we need to advance in the field of technologies for space craft launching in the first place. Trilateral work can be considered not only in the field of launching, but also in the joint development of some space systems.
Sputnik: Currently, Turkey launches its satellites abroad. What is the country doing to ensure that satellites will be launched domestically in the future?
Yildirim: This is an urgent issue for us. Independent access to space offers a very important opportunity for the state. Every country sets this goal for its space agency. This is not an easy task, but Turkey has already set it. For example, works on a microsatellite launch system are already underway, with Roketsan assigned with the task. We are planning to jump at an opportunity to launch our own satellites into low and medium orbit soon. We are planning to cooperate with a large number of countries in this field.
Sputnik: What opportunities do you provide to those private companies and entrepreneurs who want to work with the agency in order to contribute to Turkey's space exploration endeavour?
Yildirim: We want to develop a space ecosystem in Turkey and the private sector is its most important component. To date, I have established contacts with many representatives of the private sector and visited their technological clusters. If their projects are in line with our strategy, we provide them with strong support, determine focus areas for them, and start funding them shortly on a design basis.
It is very difficult to develop the space industry in the country only with the assistance of the state; the private sector must necessarily be involved in this process, and must be an integral part of it. Our agency is ready to support any sane project in the field of space exploration in Turkey.