The space industry is regarded as a strategic field for including the satellite programs that highly concern the national security of countries.
Since the launch of the first artificial satellite in 1957, space has always been a strategic area where global states have competed in military, civil and commercial matters. Space sectors of countries continue to work in the global supply chain with their research and development activities. Space studies using high technology are vital to serve the development goals of countries’ economies and to transform societies. Fuelled by competition, the space economy includes the non-governmental and military space programs, production/supply processes of products & services, and the economic activities conducted by the public/private companies and universities alike, all of which are in line with the policies and targets determined by the political wills of countries. In many countries of the world today, space agencies, space departments in non-governmental and military state institutions, rocket, satellite, and ground system manufacturer companies, and sub-industry branches that provide products to the space sector are growing day by day. And, the sectors are welcoming new shareholders included in the new space programs. Space agencies of countries are financially autonomous and are in a determinant position to carry out these programs with their own budgets. Speaking of budgets, we can say that the United States, China, Japan, and France are the leading companies respectively in this regard.
The space industry is regarded as a strategic field for including satellite programs that highly concern the national security of countries. Many space technologies are used in both non-governmental and military fields. Produced with innovative and technological inventions, space products are also made available for the use of the whole world and provide double earning opportunities. Especially after 2010, we can see how the space sector has made a big leap, accelerating the digitalisation and globalisation of the whole world with its products. Start-up companies in the space sector produce software, robotic technologies, radiation-resistant products/materials, and artificial intelligence-based technologies at low costs. And the same companies have paved the way for new business markets and carried the scientific progress to new higher levels.
Products known as new generation strategic technologies are among the biggest gains of space studies in the global economy and social life. Today, we use space technologies heavily in our daily activities such as communication, finances, and GPS. Accessibility and connectivity, which are clearly “indispensable” for information technologies (artificial intelligence/automation and big data studies) that are the driving force of the digital transformation today, are also the work of satellites. They have become the source of instant, quick, and accurate data.
What the space economy has achieved today with its gradually changing space programs can be exemplified by satellites, spacecraft, rockets, launching platforms, probes and telescopes, and space suits. The starting point for every country that enters the field of space is satellite production and launching, rocket spacecraft that can reach the low earth orbit, and platforms to launch these vehicles. And international cooperation becomes the key factor for states taking a step in this arena. Many private-sector entrepreneurs now enter the space sector, either by partnering with foreign companies or through acquisition. The activities of private sector firms in the field of space attract more attention than governmental projects today. And, people embrace these entrepreneurs as their heroes for their contributions to the development of the space activities of their countries.
We can say that safe travel to space has gained new momentum recently, with plans to go back to the moon, colonise outer space, and establish new habitat areas on Mars. In addition to the USA, which is planning to go to the Moon in 2024, other countries such as Russia, China, India, and Israel have also included the same target in their national programs. New city models with colony drawings, landing and take-off areas, living units, modular buildings, agricultural areas, scientific research units, telescopes are developed and designed to create a collective village on the Moon. Robotic technologies and 3D printers tested in the international space station are planned to be used as a workforce in the construction of these habitat areas that I mentioned.
And the USA’s Back to the Moon project had a quite important development in the past year. American Government switched from the bureaucratic and statist Old Space to the New Space environment with its dynamic, non-state private companies. Designed by the US-based private company Space X and powered by solar panels and lithium batteries, the Dragon Capsule made its first test travel, bringing crew members to the space station in low earth orbit and returning with its reusable rockets. These turns of events are considered as an important step in starting the “shipping” industry in the Commercial Space area and the beginning of the new space age. On the other hand, it also proved that new urban habitats could be established in space and that the private sector could actually transport the necessary materials, even people to the space stations in the low earth orbit.
Apart from Space X, Eren Özmen’s Sierra Nevada Corporation is another company chosen to fulfil this task in the USA. Purchasing the company where she started as an engineer, Eren Özmen will take part in cargo service with the low earth orbit spacecraft Dream Chaser, whose fleet will be tested this year, as part of her agreement with NASA. The company, which focuses on space technologies, is now an inspiration for Turkish entrepreneurs. Turkey can also be an actor in the area through leasing, purchasing, or partnerships with low earth orbit spacecraft. To be used for both people and material transportation, these spacecraft will help Turkish people in different science branches to take part in the moon and space stations. Space X and Rocket Lab are exporting their products to many countries, with Turkey also being among the customers.
Stepping into the space sector with its satellite production technologies in 1994, Turkey is fairly new in this initiative. However, satellite technologies started contributing to the economic development of Turkey over the years. The Turkish Space Agency, whose administrative infrastructure took its shape in 2018, announced the national space targets on February 9, 2021, within the framework of the policies determined by our President. Turkey will conduct its space economy and technologies under a certain program and centre. Since it is relatively new, the Turkish space sector can be considered as a new technological innovation-based high-income area that is open to stakeholders. The 2021 budget of the Turkish Space Agency was determined to be TRY 38 million 71 thousand.
In this sector, where domestic companies are the priority, new companies can also arise by establishing start-ups or in cooperation with foreign space companies. In the first phase, the aim is to create a spacecraft and launching platforms for our first steps into space. Space X’s dragon capsule is powered by solar panels and lithium batteries. The solar panels, which are manufactured and exported by our Turkish businesspeople in the energy industry, can be easily installed into our space crafts. Started to be produced in ETİ Maden facilities in Eskişehir, lithium can easily be used in space vehicles. And the boron metal with a large reserve in Turkey is suitable for use in high-temperature aircraft frames. Thus, it can also be used in Turkish spacecraft.
In space technologies, many countries specialise in a certain area with their own resources. For example, Germany is the most important material supplier with its optical lens activities. And Turkey has the potential to contribute to the world of space technologies with its own mineral reserves, especially in high temperature and radiation-resistant spacecraft frame production. We can diversify these areas, and Turkey can rank among the first countries in the supply chain for aerospace materials, contributing to the global economy.
Given that the new habitat area in space is considered to be based on the sun as an energy source, a new business opportunity will be created for the Turkish solar panel sector and lunar module living spaces. Space mining is still waiting since it is not possible to send robotic equipment without access to space. There are precious metals such as helium 3, moon dust (regolith), rare earth elements, titanium, and aluminium on the surface of the moon. Mining experience in this area can create a new opportunity for Mars. It is also possible to produce 3D printers and equipment to be brought with cargoes in space on the Moon.
Placing new composite materials and heat/radiation-resistant modular living units in space will stand out both for the Moon and Mars. Agreements with companies that perform international space tourism will offer space to Turkish customers. The real estate aspect is not yet clarified on the Moon and other celestial bodies that do not allow private property on a legal basis.
To sum it up, we are too close to turn our science-fiction dreams into reality, and Turkey will be a part of this journey into building the space ecosystem. This newly developing Turkish space economy awaits its entrepreneurs to develop and grow together. Turkey will rank among the strong economies in the world with its space technology and economy.
Lecturer at İstanbul Arel University Assoc. Prof. A. İnci Sökmen Alaca