Turkey’s recently announced space programme, which aims to make a soft landing on the moon in 2028, will cost upwards of USD 1 billion and would require building a rocket launch site in Somalia. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed last week an ambitious timetable that has two separate stages to make contact with the moon on unmanned missions.
Ankara plans to make a hard landing on the moon with a locally produced hybrid rocket that would be launched into orbit in 2023, the republic’s centennial, through international cooperation. The second stage aims to have a soft landing on the moon in 2028 with Turkey’s own capabilities, which would involve a shuttle that would carry out scientific research on the Earth’s natural satellite. However, the government has so far avoided questions regarding the programme’s cost and how it will proceed.
Initial plans submitted to Erdogan a few years ago showed that little-known Turkish presidency subsidiary Deltav (Space Technologies Incorporated Company) would be the recipient of the bulk of the spending, with a budget of more than USD 600 million. Arif Karabeyoglu, chairman of Deltav, announced last year that the company had already produced a rocket engine that uses liquid oxygen and paraffin, a crucial space programme capability.
The government plans to build a rocket launch site in Somalia, a key Turkish security partner since 2011, which also hosts Turkey’s largest training base in the world. Somalia isn’t a stranger for space enthusiasts: France also considered using the country to host a spaceport in the 1960s due to its proximity to the equator, making it more suitable for rocket launches.
Serdar Huseyin Yildirim, the Turkish Space Agency president, refused to comment on Somalia in an interview with BBC Turkish on 12 February, citing sensitive talks with the host country, which he wouldn’t name.
The government’s draft calculations suggest establishing and maintaining the spaceport in Somalia would cost more than USD 350million. The government also aims to allocate grants for Turkish doctoral students to study astrophysics and provide research and development funding for Turkish universities, all together for around USD 150million.
Yildirim told the media in repeated interviews that the space programme would help Turkey advance its technology and make crucial investments in sectors that would make the country more competitive in the long run. The government still needs to find a foreign entity capable of launching the Turkish rocket to space in 2023 where, after reaching the lower Earth orbit, the rocket would be directed to the moon.
Yildirim told a Turkish newspaper that funding for the project could be financed through international donors since many parties are interested in space projects. However, MEE’s source said that since the programme itself would require missiles, foreign investment would be unlikely. “The plans would most likely evolve since the 2023 and 2028 targets are pretty aggressive and there are many variables that could change,” the source added. “Yet, having such a target will help Turkey to concentrate on the mission that is space finally.”