Locating Turkey Within Outer Space Politics


Image ©: NASA

Xavier Quintana

Xavier Quintana

is an Anthropologist at the University of Utah, studying on the cultures of T urkey, the Republic of Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
Xavier Quintana

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In 2001, the Turkish National Security Council approved a decision titled “Establishing a Turkish Space Agency”, and a draft law will be submitted to the Turkish Parliament in the second half of 2016. What accounts for Turkey’s late entry to develop a major space program along with the independent capability to access space? Is Turkey on a path to address this shortcoming? If not, why?

The politics of outer space involve planetary defence, asteroid mining, telecommunications, satellite projects, and the observation of Earth. International Space Law offers a limited mechanism to settle disputes on international outer space in relation to military activities and the deployment of weapons. Additionally, the refusal of the US, Russia, and China to sign the Moon Treaty of 1979 was a crucial dimension in the creation of such a chaotic environment.

Despite extensive cuts in NASA’s budget after the Obama Administration and SPACE-X’s major failures in space projects, the US government’s leading role in space is still quite apparent, with its sixty four billion dollar space budget accounting for a quarter of the aggregate global space economy, which equals two hundred and sixty one billion dollars. Annually, Japan spends $3.84 billion, China invests $3.08 billion, and India allocates $1.44 billion to their programs. The European Union, Russia, Israel, South Korea, South Africa, and Brazil have been able to secure second tier roles due to their ability to launch domestic satellites independently. Africa falls behind on international space competition despite seeking to establish a regional institution with strong leadership. Nigerian petro dollars seems to be the only financial source for such a position with the assistance of Tunisia and Northern Sudan.

The Turkish Space Program started in the 1990s. Competence in aeronautics and aerospace have been developed in institutes at TAI, Aselsan and Roketsan, organically tied to the Turkish Air Naval and Land Forces, which have fostered an aerospace cluster in the province of Ankara. Turkey Space Technologies Research Institute, a civilian space agency established in 1994 that coordinates the national space policy, is responsible for conducting research in space-related areas as well as developing satellite projects. It is a federal authority under the Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation, and has been continuing the Turkish government’s efforts to promote the autonomy of the space sector. Turkey’s space efforts are conducted in further collaboration with Turkish Ministry of National Defence, Turkish Aerospace Industries, Aviation and Space Technologies of the Ministry of Transportation, State Planning Organization and public universities, specifically technoparks at Middle East Technical University and Bilkent University, both of which are located in Ankara as well.

Turkey possesses a small number of satellites developed by Turkish technology. Kazakhstan, China and Russia provided their soil for launching Turkish satellites such as BILSAT, GÖKTÜRK-1 and GÖKTÜRK-2. Turkish space technology is capable of providing services for agriculture, mining, smart transportation and disaster management. Turkey has now completed the first stage of space programs, consisting of technologically progressive, Earth-bound satellite projects to promote the local aerospace industry. Sending an orbiter to the Moon or Mars is still a long-term projection. Turkey should establish a new role for the upcoming Turkish Space Agency, involving countrywide branches, delegation of research work, and the creation of a space for all participants in the space industry to communicate in order to invigorate commercialization of its space industry. For Turkish national space development, industrial development and technological catch-up needs to be prioritized.

Among many countries, the Latin American example provides a realistic framework for Turkey. Brazilian aerospace industries are mainly driven by government investments with external assistance being received at various times from France, China, and Russia. Brazil aims to reduce dependence on foreign satellites for telecommunications, weather forecasting, environmental monitoring, and territorial surveillance, including border regions. Space activities in Venezuela started in 1999, and were focused on the areas of telecommunications, earth observation and research. The Bolivarian Agency of Space Activities (ABAE) was established in 2007 in close cooperation with mid-range regional powers such as Uruguay. Argentina’s space activities have been highly cooperative, involving a growing number of countries, including Italy, the USA, Denmark, Brazil, and France.

Space exploration predicts exciting developments in the next 40 years. Between 2020-2030, we will be witnessing an establishment of a permanent scientific base at the south pole of the Moon, the arrival of nuclear probes on Uranus and Neptune, human tourism on the Moon, and robotic sample return missions from comets and asteroids. Between 2030 and 2040, a permanent human presence on Mars and robotic mining missions to asteroids and the Moon are expected. Additionally, the terraforming of Mars is a major goal for the 2050s. Within this picture, the Turkish government needs to establish alliances in space politics out of the dominance of identity politics in its foreign policy. Escalation of armed conflicts in the Middle East will boost military expenditures in the near future, which might create competition in the creation of space exploration budgets. Turkey should refrain from forming outer space alliances on sectarian terms with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Northern Sudan and Nigeria. These countries might attract Turkey with their petro-dollars, yet they would not offer any concrete outcomes with an additional possible repercussion of isolating Turkey from the space race. Turkey’s on-going institutional cooperation with China under APSCO, its affinity with the European Space Agency, and its organic ties with the US military need to be reinforced. It should additionally pursue future collaborations with India, Brazil and South Africa.

Can Özcan

Can Özcan

is a Middle East expert at the University of Utah, teaching Turkish language, politics, and foreign policy
Can Özcan

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