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With the announcement of the National Space Programme by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the launch ceremony on 9th of February, the Turkish Space Agency (TUA) came to the limelight. We have interviewed with Serdar Hüseyin Yıldırım, the President and the Chairman of the Board of the Turkish Space Agency about what the programme will bring forth to Turkish defence and aerospace industry.
MSI Magazine: Mr. Yildirim, TUA has undertaken a series of challenging tasks with the announcement of the National Space Programme. First of all, we wish you and your team all the best. There are many aspects and details of the subject. However, we, as MSI TDR, want to handle the subject from the defence and aerospace industries standpoint. In order to illustrate a general framework, we would like to request your general assessment of the space industry in Turkey.
Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM: Thank you very much for your well wish. If we consider the launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, to be the beginning of the space age we see that Turkey -even though quite late- has accomplished important achievements since then. Especially in the last 20 years, we witnessed major achievements in satellite design and production. Thus, Turkey’s space studies precede TUA’s establishment.
How does TUA come into play in this picture? TUA has undertaken an important role from the beginning of its foundation: to coordinate all kinds of space-related studies and activities in Turkey, encourage and support them when and if necessary and carry out the certification, regulation and supervision of such works in line with the announced second goal of the National Space Programme. We want to create a world class brand in satellite market. Of course, it’s not going to happen overnight. There are big companies that have been in the satellite business for decades. It’s unrealistic to claim that we’re going to start competing with them any time soon. Therefore, targeting to become a supplier of parts and subsystems at first and then turning into a player who provides the entire satellite, seems to be a more reasonable roadmap.
The satellite is just one aspect of our work. The other aspect is the launch. In Turkey, three institutions stand out in this respect: Roketsan, DeltaV and TUBITAK SAGE. Roketsan is running the Micro-Satellite Launching System (MSLS) project. It also managed to exceed the 100km altitude considered as the threshold of the space with sounding rockets. DeltaV is proved to be a very successful company in developing hybrid rocket engines. It is also developing the engine that will get us to the Moon. Even though it works mostly for the armed forces, TUBITAK SAGE has a spectacular know-how that we can benefit from.
Furthermore, we have various companies that provide or has ability to provide solutions in the field of software and hardware. What we need to do as TUA is to set this infrastructure in order and to guide and support it properly.
TUA has undertaken an important role from the beginning of its foundation: to coordinate all kinds of space-related studies and activities in Turkey, encourage and support them when necessary and carry out the certification, regulation and supervision of such works.
MSI Magazine: When we look at the subject from the full and empty sides of the glass, what kind of picture do you see for the state of the space sector?
Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM: Before going into detail, I would like to point out a positive attitude that we have: The way the Turkish do business. I got my university degree in Germany, so I know a little about the Western world. In the West, there is a long planning process prior to any project. All possibilities are taken into consideration and planning is carried out to the finest detail. We, Turks do not like working like this. We get to work immediately and try to solve everything within the process as problems emerge, as in the proverb “Settle the matters as you go along”. We also have a centuries-old skill set in this regard.
The way the West did business had a significant advantage over the past century. But nowadays, everything is changing and improving very quickly. It’s more important to act rapidly and solve the problems as quickly as possible as they emerge. As Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, says, the big fish no longer eats the small fish, we live in such a world where the fast fish eats the slow fish. I think we are in a very advantageous position in this picture.
On the empty side of the glass, our most serious problem is the lack of human resources. The issue of the budget has also been raised a lot; however, the financial resource can be provided in some way. Human resource is not something that just pops up. We aim to raise 10,000 specialists in the next 10 years. It’s not going to happen all of a sudden; it’s going to take time. During the process, we are also planning to make use of Turkish citizens living abroad and foreign experts when necessary.
Another important issue regarding the empty side of the glass is the participation of the private sector to the process. I understand the private sector quite well. They need to make money in order to sustain its business and to survive. So, they approach to any opportunity that comes into their way as “How much business volume can it create?” And they will not enter into that business if there is no foreseeable potential. Therefore, a lot of work awaits us here. We need to develop projects that will pave the way for the private sector and support them. We also need to assist them to expend abroad. This may be possible either with joint ventures or technology transfer or with direct investment. We need to get the private sector involved and take advantage of their dynamism. There are such examples all over the world, not only from the United States or Europe but from China as well. Even in the Communist-ruled China, four private sector companies are undertaking the launch efforts.
TUA Will Structure the Industry
MSI Magazine: It is possible to say that the National Space Program will structure or shape the space industry in Turkey? If the answer is “Yes”, could you please explain how this structuring will play out?
Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM: It is certainly possible to say that. Our efforts for structuring are going on with the focus on “sustainability”. Our goal for our developing space industry is to attain a sustainable structure that can compete with the world. There needs to be a transformation for this. The scattered structure of our space industry needs to be organized. We have started this process with the company we founded for the satellite production. Naturally, it will be a high-level structure. When we get down to the lower levels, there is still a lot to be done. We envision main players in the space industry, like our satellite company, to create an ecosystem where the big players will not do everything by themselves and will play a locomotive role in the development of this ecosystem.
MSI Magazine: What kind of timetable is there in the transfer of the projects to the industry?
Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM: The National Space Program covers a 10-year period. However, it is important to see this calendar as a framework for achieving the aforementioned goals. We claim that “We’ll achieve these goals in 10 years.” For some goals, such as landing on the Moon, we have dates set within this 10-year period. For example, we set out to make a hard landing on the Moon in 2023, and we want this to be a development that will crown the 100th anniversary of the foundation of our Republic. But the dates set for other goals will be shaped depending on the developments and will be achieved accordingly throughout this 10-year period.
It should also be noted that many of the aspects included in these goals cover a longer duration then 10-years. Scientific studies, space weather, human resource development and the development of the ecosystem will continue to be on the agenda even after that period.
Budget is not a Concern
MSI Magazine: Can you explain the financial resources that will be allocated to these projects?
Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM: When the National Space Programme was announced, TUA’s budget was discussed quite a lot with respect to the objectives in the programme. However, we anticipate that the big targets announced will have their own budgets regardless of TUA’s budget. We are working on this separately.
From a more general perspective, we are able to carry out important work with very reasonable budgets. Our efforts of developing a hybrid rocket engine make for a good example. We are working with a much humbler budget than our counterparts in the world.
Right now, TUA has a resource worth $50 million. We can start many projects with this resource and continue supporting their further stages until a higher budget is required. Therefore, I can safely say that there are no problems that we are seeing in terms of financial resources at the moment.
Kick-off of International Collaborations
MSI Magazine: Within the scope of your training activities, what efforts will be made to address the lack of human resources in the industry?
Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM: TUA is not an educational institution. Therefore, we will not involve in training or granting scholarships. However, we will cooperate with our stakeholders such as Ministry of National Education, Council of Higher Education (CoHE) and TUBITAK on a number of issues and will continue to do so.
Right now, 15 universities have faculties related to our industry. I had the opportunity to visit our CoHE President at the beginning of last year, right before the pandemic. We had a long conversation during which they have requested us to identify the subjects of master’s and doctoral programs in space studies. We’re reviewing the existing curriculums and remain in contact for their improvement and renewal.
We are also launching collaborations with the universities abroad. We have taken the necessary steps for dual degrees between 3 universities in Turkey and 3 universities in China. We will carry out similar collaborations with the universities in the West.
It’s not going to be only higher education. We are also working on secondary education. We want to raise awareness and attract especially bright students to this area.
TUA has about $50 million funding. We can start many projects with this resource and continue to support their further stages until a higher budget is required. Therefore, I can safely say that there are no problems that we are seeing in terms of financial resources at the moment.
MSI Magazine: International cooperation occupies a large part in the field of space. Could you please inform us about the activities and objectives of TUA with regards to international cooperation? For example, what would you like to say about membership of the European Space Agency (ESA)?
Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM: We attach great importance to international cooperation. It is not possible to make significant accomplishment without building such collaborations.
We consider international cooperation in two categories: what we’re going to do with countries already developed in space industry and what we’re going to do with developing ones.
We are in contact with almost all developed countries in space industry. Our contacts with Russia, China and Japan are at a relatively advanced point. There are things that we can learn from these countries and we can also contribute to them in some aspects.
Meanwhile I would like to make a note on the United States. NASA is withdrawing from some areas and leaving them to private companies. Accordingly, we are in contact with companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin.
There are many other countries developing their space industry. We have got in touch with most of them. We established contacts with over 20 such countries. We have signed bilateral agreements with some of them. The announcement of our National Space Program has accelerated these negotiations. The program is gaining worldwide attention. We can develop joint projects with the participation of many countries. The International Space Station, which can be regarded as the most important project of humankind in space, is a good example of such cooperation. Rival countries such as the United States and Russia can come together in this station. In fact, both countries can set up their own stations. Why are they cooperating? Because cooperation makes more efficient use of resources. Our approach to collaborations is of the same understanding.
ESA membership is important, but unfortunately, we already missed that train long ago. At the moment, membership is not on our agenda. However, we are beginning to take part in ESA’s projects. At the event where our program was announced, we signed the “Enhanced X-Ray Timing and Polarimetry Satellite Wide Area Monitoring Application Software Project Agreement” as part of an ESA project with Sabancı University and TUBITAK Space. As our participation in ESA projects increases and our relations with ESA-member countries improves, then we can make a progress towards membership.
We approach space-related issues with that motto: “If you’re not in there, you can’t defend your rights in that place.” Turkey’s absence in space is unacceptable. So, we have to enhance our presence in space further and fortify it with all our might. We are determined to carry out our efforts in this direction.
MSI Magazine: Are there any other topics you would like to add?
Serdar Hüseyin YILDIRIM: We approach space-related issues with that motto: “You have got to be there to look out for yourself.” For example, our goals for the Moon are being criticized by saying that “Is there anything left on the Moon that hasn’t been discovered yet?” The reason why we have a goal to land on the Moon is to mark our presence. Moreover, it is possible for the Moon to be used as a launch base for the journeys to other celestial bodies, especially to Mars. The United States and other countries are also intensifying their studies on Moon.
Turkey’s absence in space is unacceptable. So, we have to enhance our presence in space further and fortify it with all our might. We are determined to carry out our efforts in this direction.
We would like to thank Serdar Hüseyin Yıldırım, the President and the Chairman of the Board of the Turkish Space Agency for taking the time to answer our questions, and for providing us with such valuable information.
10 Goals of the National Space Programme
- Hard landing on the Moon for the first time on the centennial of the Republic of Turkey, followed by a soft landing in 2028.
- Creating a trademark that can compete in the global arena in the field of next generation satellite development.
- Developing a regional positioning and timing system that will owned by Turkey.
- Providing access to space and establishing a spaceport enterprise.
- Investing in the fields defined as “space weather and meteorology” to enhance Turkey’s competence in space.
- Rendering Turkey more competent in astronomical observations and in the ground-based tracking of space objects.
- Further developing the ecosystem of Turkey’s aerospace industry.
- Establishing a Space Technology Development Zone.
- Developing effective and competent human resources in space studies.
- Sending a Turkish citizen into space.