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Assessing Turkiye’s Role in The Global Space Competition

Author: Gloria Shkurti Özdemir 

Affiliation: SETA Foundation.

Organization/Publisher: SETA (siyaset, ekonomi ve toplum araştırmaları vakfı)

Date/Place: January, 2024/ Turkiye

Type of Literature: Analysis

Words Count: 6871

Link: https://setav.org/en/assets/uploads/2024/01/A87En.pdf

 

Keywords: ISS, Global Space Race, Turkiye’s Space Strategy, Turkiye’s National Space Program

 

Brief:  

The rapid advancement of technology and the rise of private tech companies have ignited worldwide competition in space exploration. Activities such as satellite launches, and rocket missions have become widespread globally. In this article, Gloria Shkurti Özdemir delves into the changing dynamics of the global space race, with a specific emphasis on Turkey’s expanding role.

The space race was originally fueled by the Cold War rivalry between the United States and USSR, and held immense significance as these superpowers competed for supremacy in the uncharted realm of outer space. The author mentions that today outer space has become a strategic arena not only for nation-states but also for non-state actors, including tech companies. A contemporary space race is underway, primarily involving the U.S. and China. Over the past year, this competition has intensified, suggesting a possible divergence in the economic and technological realms. Özdemir argues that renewed space rivalry is a crucial aspect of the US and China’s broader geopolitical competition, carrying profound implications for both civilian advancements and military capabilities. 

The author mentions Turkiye’s achievement in January 2024 by sending its first citizen to the International Space Station (ISS) and joining an exclusive group of 22 nations with successful ISS missions. According to Gloria, this significant achievement demonstrates Turkiye’s growing prowess in space technology and solidifies its standing as an emerging power in the global space community.

 

In the first section of the article, the author emphasizes that space has undergone a significant transformation in international politics, evolving from a realm dominated by few powers to a diverse and active field with 90 nations and the European Union having their own programs. As of January 1, 2023, there were around 7,000 active satellites orbiting earth, with the United States and China being major contributors. The U.S holds 67% of these satellites, highlighting its still dominant role. Özdemir points out that the frequency of space launches has doubled from 2015 to 2022, with the U.S, China, and Russia maintaining their dominance. Government expenditures for space programs reached $103 billion in 2022, with the U.S and China contributing 72%. She also mentions that the U.S share has decreased from 76% in 2000 to 62% in 2022, indicating a diversification of space activities.

Alongside governments, private companies also play a crucial role in commercial space activities. SpaceX, for instance, achieved milestones such as transporting NASA astronauts and initiating the Starlinks project for global internet coverage. The author says that SpaceX is only the most prominent in this this ecosystem as there are also other key players like Blue Origin, Boeing and Virgin Galactic.

Space activities have both civilian and military applications. Satellites are essential for communications, weather forecasting, navigation, agricultural advancements and scientific research. The military aspect is gaining prominence, with the potential for space becoming a battlefield. Emerging technologies like AI have dual uses and countries like China are developing dual-use satellites with civilian and military purposes.

The author highlights the increase in government spending on defense in response to geopolitical tensions, with a shift towards space security and early warning systems. She uses the ongoing Russia -Ukraine war as an example to highlight the strategic role of space assets in modern warfare as satellites have been targeted for disruption.

As mentioned above, space competition is no longer dominated by two state actors, as new players are emerging. The author believes that the involvement of non-state actors, especially commercial entities and the impact of emerging technologies, characterize the new space race era. Private sector participation has led to cost reductions in space ventures, such as launching satellites and developing space stations.

Lastly, the limited spatial capacity for operational space assets, particularly in geostationary orbits has led to a competition in space ventures given the critical nature of securing orbits for future activities.

 

The second section of the article talks about Turkiye’s space program and its place in the global competition, as Turkiye is now becoming a significant player, achieving a milestone by sending its first citizen to the International Space Station (ISS) in January 2024. Özdemir mentions that this accomplishment reflects Turkiye’s growing capabilities and ambitions in space exploration and technology. The establishment of the Turkish Space Agency (TUA) in 2018 and its proactive approach in recent years demonstrate Turkiye’s commitment to space initiatives.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unveiled Turkiye’s ambitious national space program in 2021, where he outlined key objectives and strategies for advancing its position in space exploration and technology from 2022 to 2030. The author tells us that Turkiye aims for independence in space access, and to strengthen its space ecosystem, benefit society through space use, increase its share in the global space market, and foster international cooperation for peaceful space utilization.

The author points out that to achieve these goals, Turkiye has developed a comprehensive space ecosystem, enabling the design, production and testing of communication and earth observation satellites. Turkiye is also actively pursuing its own launch capabilities marking a crucial phase in achieving self-reliance in space exploration.

Özdemir notes that Türkiye currently operates 21 active satellites, ranking 25th globally and sixth among European nations. The country has made significant strides in the commercial satellite sector, participating in CubeSats projects like KILIÇSAT and İTÜPSAT1. Türkiye’s dynamic involvement in space technology, frequent launches from SpaceX facilities, and collaborations with leading tech companies demonstrate its forward-thinking approach and ambition in the global space race.

The author indicates that Türkiye has declared a national space strategy, outlining ten principal objectives. These objectives include moon research, consolidation of satellite production, a regional positioning and timing system, a space access and spaceport program, technological research in space weather, enhanced ground-based space object observation and tracking, development of the space industry ecosystem, a space technologies development zone, space awareness, human resource development, and a Turkish astronaut and science mission program.

The emphasis on centralizing satellite manufacturing, establishing a regional positioning and timing system, creating a space industry ecosystem, and investing in space weather research highlights Türkiye’s commitment to technological self-reliance and advancement in space exploration. The country’s achievements and objectives underscore its dedication to shaping the future of global space exploration and innovation while emphasizing the importance of domestic capabilities in aligning with Türkiye’s National Technological Move initiative.

 

In the last section of the article, Özdemir highlights a statement by the first Turkish astronaut Alper Gezeravci that encapsulates the profound significance of Turkiye’s inaugural manned space mission. Gezeravci emphasized that for a country like Turkiye entering the realm of space exploration goes beyond scientific implications; it symbolizes a breakthrough, shattering psychological barriers that previously hindered the nation’s dream in this field. Turkiye, once a mere observer, is now making substantial strides as a noteworthy participant in the global space landscape.

The author believes that Turkiye has systematically dismantled barriers over the years, propelled by targeted government policies focused on technological innovation like the advancements in unmanned autonomous weapons and the creation of a national car, TOGG. All of these are pivotal steps not only for showcasing technological prowess but also serving as inspiration for the nation to set higher goals. Each achievement contributes to a future where Turkiye envisions the sky not as the limit but as just the beginning of its space exploration journey.

 

To conclude, the article talks about the rise of a space race between not only nations but also tech companies, with Turkey becoming an emerging player in recent years. The article also talks about the strategic importance of space and as a domain of global competition. The article highlights the importance of Turkiye gaining independent access to space and establishing itself as a central player in the arena, as this carries extensive implications across scientific, economic, political, and strategic dimensions for the future of Turkiye.

 

By: Şeymanur Melayim, CIGA Research Intern

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