Turkey is committed to the peaceful use of outer space and is strongly against the weaponisation of space, this was stated by the president of the Turkish Space Agency (TUA), Serdar Hüseyin Yildirim, in an interview with the New Defence Order. Strategy journal on Tuesday. Yildirim is heading the Turkish Delegation at the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX-2021) being held in Saint Petersburg, Russia, 14-18 June.
"Space, like any advanced technology, has two faces: one we can either use this technology for the benefit of humankind, or we can choose to use it for war and destruction. Turkey is, and will remain committed to the peaceful use of outer space. We are against the weaponisation of space, we do not want any wars or conflicts in space. Thus, precautions must be taken on the international level to prevent this from happening," said the president of Turkey’s Space Agency.
On 9 February 2021, President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, unveiled Turkey's National Space Programme, a roadmap based on realistic and competitive goals. According to this plan, the country intends to reach the Moon and send a Turkish astronaut over the span of the coming 10 years.
In his speech at the launching ceremony, Erdogan noted that the program outlines Turkey's 10-year vision, strategies, objectives, and projects on space policies.
The Turkish Space Agency (TUA) developed Turkey's National Space Program and it is in charge of running it. President Erdogan said that Turkey is opening the door to the sky journey of its civilization that pioneered justice, morality, and peace in the world for centuries.
As underlined by both Erdogan and Yildirim, the objective of the Turkish National Space Program is to push Turkey forward in the space sector. “In order to reach that goal, we have designed a very ambitious programme,” said Yildirim on Tuesday.
Talking about Turkey's Lunar mission, TUA's president said: "The first and most important strategic goal of our National Space Program is the 1-Moon Mission. At the first stage of this phase, in 2023, we will establish the first contact with the moon through a rough landing. The second stage will be at the end of 2028 or the beginning of 2029, and this is when we will make a soft landing on the surface of the Moon."
The significance of this launch lies in the fact that it will be made in memory of the 100th Anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey. This launch will be made with a national and authentic hybrid rocket that will be delivered to the Orbit in 2023 through international cooperation. The spacecraft which will conduct this mission will be made in Turkey with maximum possible domestic contribution, said the president of TUA.
He added that Turkey is now preparing its own spacecraft with its domestically-built hybrid engine. This spacecraft, which weighs about 2 tonnes approximately, will be brought to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by international collaboration because Turkey does not have the capacity for that yet. According to Yildirim of TUA, it has not been decided yet who will carry out the Turkish spacecraft, but negotiations are active with potential companies.
"We have not decided on which company will deliver our spacecraft to orbit yet, we are still in the process of negotiating with potential companies. They will bring us to LEO and then from there we will ignite our own hybrid engine and head towards the Moon, it will take 3-4 days to reach our destination," he explained. “At this stage of the 1-Moon Mission, namely the hard landing, what really matters is the experience itself and the valuable information that this mission will collect for the accomplishment of the final mission in 2028,” he continues.
It is worth mentioning that Turkey's 10-year vision lists 10 main strategic goals, one of which is to send a Turkish citizen to the International Space Station (ISS) on a scientific mission. Yildirim noted that the Turkish presidency is very keen on the idea of sending a Turkish citizen to space, and this will be done in the frame of a scientific mission to the ISS. However, the priority remains to be given to the Lunar mission, he emphasised.
"We chose to give priority to the 1-Moon Mission because the manned space flights are in the capacity of only three countries, Russia, China, and the USA. Since the first human flight to space 60 years ago, more than 500 people have travelled in space, but always accompanying astronauts from these three countries. Therefore, we did not want to start our space project by going as tourists into space, we will just start by going to the ISS to conduct some research."- he elaborated.
The main goal of this is to conduct scientific research, mainly in biotechnology and composite material. "We are aiming for at least three or four experiments over 15 days on the ISS," the president of TUA pointed out.
Currently, the Turkish Space Agency expects to finalise the details of sending a Turkish citizen to space in two months, and there is yet a decision on which company will carry out the mission. As stated by Yildirim, three main factors are taken into consideration when choosing between ROSCOSMOS and one of many potential American companies.
The first factor is timing. As mentioned earlier, 2023 is Turkey’s centennial year, therefore, Turkey wants to achieve this goal of sending a Turkish citizen in that same year. According to Yildirim, ROSCOSMOS has a launch window open in 2024 so far, while potential American companies said that they can do the launch in 2023. "We have not reached any conclusions yet, we are still in the process of negotiating with all sides," stressed Yildirim.
Another factor to consider is the size of the cargo that can accompany the Turkish scientific mission to the ISS. “The capability of bringing our research cargo to the ISS, how much we can carry, what we can carry, what experiments we can do there, all these are crucial points to consider. And last but not least is the cost of the preparation, training, and the launch altogether.
"We will evaluate all these factors and decide in two months at most. That will be followed by the process of choosing our candidates, then after that, the training phase will take at least one year, so we will eventually meet our goal in 2023. Thousands of people are expected to apply, but the process hasn't started yet," he continues.
Answering our question about the potential of selecting a woman astronaut for this mission, Yildirim said that there is a high chance this could happen, and it is encouraged that both female and male candidates apply. At the same time, he made it very clear that "gender is not the main criteria here in the selection process." He continues that "she or he who will be selected must have a scientific background, professional experience, good psychological and physical health conditions."
What is the plan after Turkey's 10-year vision is met?
TUA's president stated that they have already put a programme for a Turkish cosmodrome and that it is going to be a main competitor in the commercial space market. It is worth mentioning here that this spaceport cannot be located in Turkey because Turkey is not suitable location-wise for a launching ground.
Yildirim revealed that talks are ongoing with four countries for the establishment of this spaceport on their territory, but he did not name any of these countries. The only specification he gave was that “it is near the equator and is open on the sea.”
There have been media speculations earlier about Somalia, being selected for the location of this rocket launch site (spaceport) due to its adjacency to the equator. In an interview with the BBC Turkey in February, the president of TUA declined to comment on the matter. Other speculations referred to Qatar and Pakistan as well, but no official confirmation was made in this regard either from any of the sides.
Yildirim accented his agency's readiness to work with the private space sector saying that "all doors are open for the private sector because we do need them."
Cooperation with Russia
On the second day of GLEX-2021, the TUA held a bilateral meeting with the ROSCOSMOS Space State Corporation. Yildirim described this meeting as being fruitful. "Although it has been a much-belated meeting because of the pandemic, we have finally managed to make it happen. I am very positive as I see many areas where we can cooperate with ROSCOSMOS," he added.
On another matter of international cooperation, the head of TUA expressed the agency's interest in participating in the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). For the time being, the agency is planning and evaluating the project in general now and is studying the potential of producing some subsystems for the station and becoming partners in the project.
“We are already partners in several projects. Regardless of the size of our participation, what matters for us at this stage is to learn and be more involved in new international projects because we strongly believe in the importance of international collaboration,” Yildirim said.
The International Lunar Research Station is a planned lunar base currently being developed by Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration. Russia and China announced on Tuesday the roadmap for the ILRS at one of the plenary sessions of GLEX-2021.
“We cannot succeed without international cooperation. We should act as humanity, not as nations. I cannot stress enough the idea that we should not be in a race, let us be together without feeling the urge to compete. Competition brings hostility, and hostility is the last thing we need in space. I truly believe that global peace will be eventually achieved through space activities,” concluded the president of TUA.
Interviewed by: Reem Mohamed
©"New Defence Order. Strategy" 2021