To promise the moon is synonymous with promising the impossible. But the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is in a position to do so: “We will reach the Moon using a hybrid rocket of national production which will be put into orbit at the end of 2023, the centenary of the Republic.” As the president explained on Tuesday during the unveiling of the program of the Turkish Space Agency (TUA), founded by presidential decree just over two years ago, Turkey will join the closed club of countries that operate extraterrestrial missions. . It will serve as another pillar of international projection for a country committed to an increasingly expansive foreign policy, as well as to develop its own technology for civilian and military use. Ankara also intends to send a manned space mission within the next decade.
“Space programs lead to the direct and indirect development of other fields and strengthen a country’s technological, industrial and scientific capabilities,” explains Arda Mevlütoglu, an expert in defense policy and aerospace technology. “The other reason is that it symbolizes the ambitions of a country. Achieving the goals of an aerospace program, even just a few, gives a lot of international prestige,” he adds.
“For the civilization we represent to once again become a world leader, Turkey must advance in the space race (…). We will make this nation proud when we see the red flag and the crescent sent to the moon,” Erdogan said in his speech. polls—, this announcement is also valid for shifting the public debate towards more optimistic horizons.
The Turkish space program will have several phases. The earliest, in 2023, will consist of a hard landing (hard landing), crashing a rocket into the Moon. This is what the Soviet Union and the United States devoted themselves to during the space race of the 1960s until the triumph of the mission Apollo 8, although during the first decade of this century, the European, Indian and Chinese space agencies conducted similar exercises. This will provide knowledge and experience to the TUA to be able to carry out a soft landing (soft landing) in 2028 that enables scientific research. Another goal is to put a manned mission into space orbit with at least one Turkish citizen on a science mission within a decade.
However, for the space program to be a real “national” success, one of the first steps, as the Turkish president underlined, will be to find a fully “Turkish” equivalent to the word astronaut. Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the far-right MHP party and partner of Erdogan in government, proposed the term “cacabey” in honor of Cacaoglu Nûreddin Cebrâil, a 13th century emir of Anatolia who built a madrasa where astronomy was taught. And besides, he died fighting the Byzantines.
It is difficult to estimate the viability of a space program in such a short term. In fact, Erdogan acknowledged that the first lunar mission should be sent into space with the help of a third country, without however specifying which one. The second, no: it will be purely national. “In terms of human resources, the current ones are not enough. We have a lot to do about it,” says Mevlütoglu. The brain drain due to the political and economic situation of recent years – or the arrest of one of the few Turks working at NASA while on vacation in Turkey – has not contributed much to this.
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The item budgeted last year for the TUA, three million euros, is negligible compared to the budget of the European Space Agency (5,700 million), although the Minister of Technology, Mustafa Varank, clarified that they have funds from other organizations such as the state military industry conglomerate — which develops the rockets — or the Council for Scientific and Technological Research, which designs the satellites.
It is in these two areas that the Turkish space program can truly generate significant technical advances. Last month, Turkey launched its communications satellite Turkstat 5A from the United States and with the cooperation of Space X, with whose founder, Elon Musk, Erdogan spoke by telephone to offer him to collaborate in the Turkish space program. In the second quarter of this year, another communication satellite will be sent into space, putting five of these Turkish devices into orbit. There are three observation and surveillance units and next year a fourth will join: IMECE, a satellite designed and manufactured entirely by Turkey and which will provide high resolution images for civilian and military use. In 2025, there are plans to launch a microsatellite developed by Roketsan, the state-owned artillery, rocket and missile company.
All these satellites are, for the moment, put into orbit from abroad, Turkey not having the technological capacity to do so. However, last November Roketsan announced that one of its sounding rockets had reached an altitude of 135 kilometers above sea level, surpassing the so-called Kármán line (100 km) which separates the atmosphere from the atmosphere. outer space. “Our next goal is, as soon as possible, to put a 100-kilogram payload into orbit at an altitude of 400 kilometers,” Roketsan director Murat Ikinci said last October.
These milestones, in turn, will mark advancements in Turkish military products, an industry that has grown tremendously over the past decade, enabling Turkey to become an exporter of cutting-edge military technology and take steps towards self-sufficiency in this area. “It will probably allow to continue the development of the military industry because there is a great intersectionality between space and military technologies”, estimates Mevlütoglu: “I do not think that Turkey intends to manufacture ballistic missiles intercontinental because, unlike Iran, it has none”. .planned in its strategic threat assessment, but it could achieve the technological capability to develop them through its space program,” he adds.