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Space Ambitions: Turkey Prepares to Compete and Capture

By Adrienne Harebottle | June 18, 2020
Turksat 6A

Artist’s rendition of Turksat 6A. Photo: Turksat

Over the last decade, Turkey has invested in its spacefaring ambitions, resulting in the strengthening of its indigenous space-related know-how and its position within the global arena. In 2011 and 2012, RASAT and Göktürk 2 were launched respectively, placing the two Earth Observation (EO) satellites designed and developed in Turkey into orbit. With the capacity to deliver far more in terms of the global satellite market, Turkey went on to establish its state-of-the-art space systems Assembly, Integration, and Testing (AIT) center in capital city Ankara, which has been operational since 2015, and the enabler of Turkey’s mid-size satellite projects.

To add to its arsenal of space capabilities, the country has also built its own communications satellite, Turksat 6A, which was the culmination of local technology powerhouses Tubitak Space, Turkish Aerospace, Aselsan, and CTECH, as well as state-owned satellite operator Turksat. Turksat 6A is scheduled to be launched in 2022.

The building of Turksat 6A marks the biggest space-related milestone in the country’s history, and was the bright backdrop for the establishment of the Turkish Space Agency in December of 2018. The Turkish Space Agency is tasked with the preparation and implementation of the National Space Program, and is to be the key catalyst in the growth of Turkey’s space capabilities and the coordination between institutions.

Reinforced positioning and a strengthened arsenal of capabilities are necessary to survive and thrive, as the global market is becoming an increasingly competitive landscape, explained Cenk Sen, Turksat CEO. In this battle, Turkey will prove its might as a regional player, he said.

“Turkey is ambitiously moving forward to become a competitive space systems manufacturer, and will become a stakeholder for manned and unmanned space missions in the near future. We expect the satellite market to become much more competitive in the coming years. But Turksat will be more than ready for any competition with its six satellites,” Sen said.

Broadcast, Data, and More 

Once launched, this sixth satellite at 42 degrees East will extend Turksat’s footprint over Asia. With its 20 Ku-band transponders, Turksat 6A will be primarily used for broadcast in addition to a backup for critical services. Currently, there are around 20 million satellite dishes in Turkey and across the region directed at 42 degrees East. While broadcast makes up the bulk of annual revenues from this hot location, demand for data services over satellite continues to increase.

As a result of this growing trend, Turksat has invested in two new satellites: Türksat 5A and Türksat 5B. Turksat 5A will be launched in the final quarter of this year at 31 degrees East, primarily for data services in Ku-band. Turksat 5B, the flagship satellite, is planned for in-orbit delivery in the first quarter of 2021 at 42 degrees East with more than 50 Gbps High-Throughput Satellite (HTS) Ka-band capacity over Turkey, South Africa, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), West Africa, and the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.

“With these two new satellites, Turksat will increase its capabilities for data and provide a wide range of services to its customers in the aviation and maritime markets. Turksat 5B coverage is suitable for enabling planes in the MENA region and cruise ships in most of Agean and Mediterranean seas,” said Sen.

Government will remain a business mainstay, however, Sen notes the growth potential in mobile data services for first aid response, security enforcement, the coast guard and border patrol. There is also growth potential in the telco market with Sen expecting to see backhaul and trunking services increase.

“We developed our own Ka-band Satcom-on-the-Move (SOTM) antenna for maritime services and this has already been deployed on Turkish Coast Guard ships. With 5G technology becoming a reality, we are preparing Turksat for Internet of Things (IoT) services. Turksat 5B will be at the center for all these satellite services in Turkey and the region,” said Sen.

As pricing is becoming increasingly more competitive with the advent of HTS and a more affordable launch market, data services over satellite will become ever more relevant, said Sen, adding that satellite could even become the first choice delivery technology.

“Satellite was always considered an expensive tool for communications, but this perception is changing as price per Mbit keeps decreasing with each new satellite. Satellite is a more affordable option than ever before. But potentially adding to this change are the new Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations. With their global coverage, if LEO constellations can provide cheap data services and terminals to the end users, then satellite communications may even become the first option for data services,” said Sen.