Shaping Turkey’s space programme

by Staff Reporter | April 6th, 2013

(from l to r) Enver Kaya, Business Development Chief, and Ibrahim Keskiner, Executive Vice President, Space Systems, of Turkish Aerospace Industries, Inc. (TAI)

In Ankara, in December 2012,Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan watched the launch of Gokturk-2 live from giant screens along with hundreds of compatriots.

Göktürk-2 is an earth observation satellite designed and developed by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Tubitak) and built by Tubitak Space Technologies Research Institute and Turkish Aerospace Industries for the Turkish Ministry of National Defence. It was reportedly indigenously designed from the electro optics remote sensing technology to the ground segment

“It is a historic moment for our nation,” he reportedly said following the launch.

“In the past we did send satellites to space but Gokturk-2 has proven that we are now a country with a claim in this field. We are rising to position ourselves as one of the 25 countries which are capable of producing their own satellites.”

The road map for the ambitious space programme emerged after the Turkish government set up an Aerospace and Space Technologies Directorate under the supervision of the Transport Ministry in November 2011. This office is slated to become the country’s first National Space Agency.

17 satellites by 2020

The Turkish government has devised an ambitious road map for the country’s multiple satellite programmes through 2020. As reported by the Ankara-based Hürriyet Daily News – according to the road map, a total of 17 Turkish satellites will come into orbit from 2012 to 2020.

A space industry expert based in Turkey said the next five years’ satellite contracts would amount to USD 2 billion. According to the road map, Göktürk I as well as Türksat 4A, a communications satellite, will be launched in 2013.

Türksat 4B will be launched in 2014 and Türksat 4R in 2015 along with the Göktürk III, a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) reconnaissance and observation satellite. 2016 will see an infrared early warning satellite sent into orbit, along with the Türksat 5A communications satellite. In 2017, Türksat 5B and a second infrared satellite will be launched. The electro optical Göktürk IV and two more infrared satellites will be put in orbit in 2018, and yet two more infrared satellites will be launched in 2019. In 2020 Turkey will launch its second SAR Göktürk V.

Keskiner adds, “These satellites will be assembled, integrated and tested in the fully equipped new AIT centre which will be operational at the end of 2013. One of the main objectives of GÖKTÜRK-1 programme is to establish an “Assembly Integration and Test Centre” in the TAI facilities for testing and integrating all type of satellites up to five tons in weight. With this government investment, TAI will not only be an international space centre, but also have a prime role in manufacturing the country’s satellites.”

Playing their part in this ambitious programme are Ibrahim Keskiner, Executive Vice President, Space Systems and Enver Kaya, Business Development Chief, Space Systems of Turkish Aerospace Industries, Inc. (TAI). Ranking among the top global players in aerospace and defence, TAI is based on five strategic pillars: Space, aircraft, helicopter, UAVs, aerostructure and special programmes.

“Our operating costs are competitive as compared to some of the more established players. And while cost is important, we believe that a common culture is also important … We share religious, cultural and historical bonds with countries across Africa and the Middle East”

Speaking to Satellitepro ME on the sidelines of IDEX in Abu Dhabi, they outlined the long term goals of their division. The long term goal is to become a major player in the space industry, says Keskiner.

“We are a newcomer in the space industry and we have a long way to go. Whether as the main contractor or as a sub-contractor, we aim to be a trustworthy, competitive partner. In addition, given the vagaries of the global economic situation, we are looking to expand in a sustainable fashion.”

The path ahead is not easy, conceded Kaya citing the established players in the business with decades of heritage. Creating a space heritage, therefore is topmost on the minds of Keskiner and Kaya, and installing experimental equipment on future satellites is part of the mission to create that heritage.

“We are developing satellite management systems, electrical power systems and onboard data handling systems. These systems will be installed in future satellites to create that essential heritage to demonstrate our capabilities to our customers.”

However, with a heritage in avionics that goes back to 1980s, not many would bet against the team at TAI. As service providers to the formidable Turkish Air Force, they have been catering to a very exacting client, affirms Keskiner.

“The Turkish Air Force is one of the most prestigious military forces in the world. As our customers, their requirements are demanding and we are proud to provide systems to them, because the Air Force is the best reference for us. ”

Heading a 170-strong team made up of systems and software engineers, among others, it is Keskiner and Kaya’s mandate to approach potential customers and technology partners. The road show has already begun with a considerable presence of the company at IDEX – the defence industry-related event in Abu Dhabi.

Why should customers trust us? You ask. We are not newcomers. We have been working for more than three decades in the field of avionics

On upcoming plans, Keskiner elaborates: “Next month, we will be exhibiting in Satellite 2013 in Washington and we will be exploring avenues for cooperation at the National Space Symposium in Colorado. In May, this year, we have IDEF, the international defence fair in Istanbul and we will be exhibiting there. In addition, we plan to visit various potential countries looking for possible partners and customers.”

Cost, culture and flexibility

Keskiner believes that there are a number of factors working in their favour – one of the critical factors being that TAI is the prime contractor for satellite services for the country’s defence forces and the upcoming Turksat satellites.

“Why should customers trust us? You ask. We are not newcomers. We have been working for more than three decades in the field of avionics. What we bring is our expertise from the aircraft and helicopter domains to the space domain. The transition will not take too much time because we have trained workforce at the outset. ”

Enver Kaya adds, “Moreover, our operating costs are competitive as compared to some of the more established players. And while cost is important, we believe that a common culture is also important in order to understand the way to do business. In particular, we share religious, cultural and historical bonds with countries across Africa and the Middle East over the past few centuries. CIS countries with a common heritage are also our targets markets. We approach each other as brothers and there is a great degree of comfort working with people with whom you share such bonds.”

Common cultural bonds and cost apart, Enver Kaya drew attention to another key aspect of TAI’s strategy vis-à-vis customers and technology partners – flexibility.

“We offer a range of services. From design and manufacture of certain components to testing – the key is to listen to the customer. While some are looking for training of manpower along with design and manufacture of certain components, other customers would probably look to use our extensive testing facilities.”

With the entry of players such as TAI, the moot question is whether affordable space development can be made possible. With more players entering the space sector, “commodity hardware”, that is, low-cost universal mass produced components could become a reality, thus making cost of space travel less astronomical.

Spread over five million sqm in Ankara, the sprawling headquarters of TAI handles space systems avionics, data handling, thermal control and space sub-systems, among other operations. The complex also houses a Satellite Simulation Integration and Functional Test Laboratory and Satellite Assembly Integration and Test Facilities (AIT). The centre is reportedly capable of supporting AIT activities of two-plus satellites including GEO satellites up to five tons.

There are a diverse range of space actors in Turkey. Current organisations include the State Planning Organisation, the Ministry of Transportation, the communications satellite operator Türksat, the state scientific research institute Tübitak and the defense procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM).

Defence companies Aselsan, Roketsan and Turkish Aerospace Industries, as well as three universities, are also involved in space programmes.

“We are also cooperating with the universities on solar panels as per a government mandate ,”  reiterates Kaya.

With reputed universities, trained manpower has not been a challenge.

Keskiner explains, “Space is an exciting field and it attracts talent but in the long term, the big challenge is to keep people motivated, especially during challenging projects.”

In the meantime, the space programme is taking on expanded responsibilities as the government faces an unprecedented humanitarian crises along the border with Syria in terms of monitoring the 600-km long border for illegal intrusions.

“Along with meeting other countries, we are also making our government departments aware of the capabilities of our indigenous space systems. From agriculture and forestry to disaster management and city planning, the response has been encouraging. The government departments have been purchasing space services from outside – we are trying to make them aware of indigenous capability at their disposal.

“The Turkish Air Force is one of the most prestigious militaries in the world. As our customers, their requirements are demanding and we are proud to provide systems to them, because the Air Force is the best reference for us”

“Once a critical level of demand is generated, investments in space development will also increase on the part of the government,” elaborates Keskiner.

With nimble, private space entities already demonstrating expertise in the areas of reusability and cost-effective components, Keskiner keeps his goals realistic.

“What we have seen in the space domain is that no one company can be the sole supplier. There are a host of companies providing components and we aim to be a reliable subcontractor for the prime contractors. It is not impossible to achieve – in the field of aviation – we are already preferred suppliers to both Boeing and Airbus.”

Keskiner’s aim to move from TAI’s demonstrated expertise in the area of remote sensing satellites to communications satellites reflects the country’s current collaborative initiatives with Mitsubishi. The Türksat 5-A, which will be Turkey’s first own communications satellite, is planned for launch by 2016. And the ultimate ambition is to send an astronaut to space by 2023.

 

 

 

 

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