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The moon in the black sky

Turkey sets sight on Moon with 10-year space programme

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has unveiled an ambitious space programme for the country over the next decade, which includes developing satellite systems and sending a Turkish astronaut on a space mission.

The programme is ambitious in its timescale, with Erdogan aiming to establish “first contact with the Moon” in 2023 ('The Moon Programme'), marking a century since the Republic of Turkey was founded.

The announcement was publicised with the deployment of a metal monolith in a field in Sanliurfa province, south-east Turkey, inscribed with “Look at the sky, you will see the Moon” in a historic Turkic script. An image of the monolith was then projected behind Erdogan, who quoted the inscription.

According to Erdogan, this initial stage of the programme will leverage international cooperation to complete a soft landing on the Moon via a hybrid-propellant rocket. This would make Turkey one of a handful of countries able to carry out research on the lunar surface.

“Our primary and most important goal for our national space programme is the contact of the Republic, in its 100th year, with the Moon,” he said during a televised event broadcast live from Ankara. “God willing, we are going to the Moon.”

According to the state-run news agency Anadolu Agency, the second phase will involve the development of proprietary satellite technology with a view to creating a regional positioning system. This will allow Turkey to grow its share of the world satellite market; work towards its own precise navigation applications for defence and civilian purposes, and “end foreign dependency”, Erdogan said.

Turkey will also aim to establish a spaceport for carrying heavy payloads into orbit. Acknowledging that Turkey is not geographically suited for launches, he said that the country would cooperate with allies to build the port in a suitable area.

Erdogan said that the final goal will be to “send a Turkish citizen to space with a scientific mission”.

The programme is likely to be perceived as part of Erdogan’s vision for expanding Turkey’s regional and global role through an ambitious national space programme. Although the Turkish Space Agency was established in 2018, with the aim of collaborating with other national space programmes, this roadmap provides details about what the agency will work on for the first time.

In his televised address, Erdogan did not provide further details about how Turkey would achieve its ambitious goals. However, he said that 2.1bn (£216m) has been provided for 56 space, satellite, launch system and space equipment projects over the past 18 years, establishing local expertise in space technology.

“I hope that this roadmap, which will carry Turkey to the upper league in the global space race, will come to life successfully,” Erdogan said.

Turkey will join the 21st-century space race alongside the US, Russia, China, Europe, the UAE, Japan and other developed nations and regions. This week marks the arrival of three separate Mars missions in orbit around the red planet: the UAE’s Hope probe and China’s Tianwen-1 probe have reached Mars, with Nasa’s Perseverance rover close behind.

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