In January, with Gokturk-2 operating nominally in orbit, Ankara said the government was prepared to enter negotiations with Turkish industry to begin work on the country's first synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging spacecraft, a development that could be enabled in part by a new satellite assembly, integration and test facility that Thales Alenia Space is building in Turkey. Capable of processing satellites weighing up to 5,000 kg, the plant's construction is one of the terms in a 2009 contract between Turkey's defense ministry and prime contractor Telespazio that by the end of this year will furnish Ankara with Gokturk-1, the highest-resolution optical-imaging spacecraft ever approved for export.
At about 1,000 kg, the Thales-built satellite will offer 50-cm (20-in.) resolution at nadir in black and white, according to industry sources, a capability that bests France's new twin Pleiades Earth-observation spacecraft, which is designed to capture raw data with 70-cm resolution at nadir but can resample images to produce pictures of 50-cm-wide objects.
More than 15 years in the making, the agreement gives Turkish Aerospace Industries the opportunity to complete final integration of the spacecraft at the new test facility before it is launched early next year. Turkey also has the option to purchase a follow-on spacecraft that would undergo complete assembly, integration and test in Turkey, according to industry sources.
“Gokturk-1 is the most impressive example of a satellite with real capabilities that are not so far from the leading technologies of the top five nations in space,” says Philippe Campenon, deputy director for space and Earth observation at Euroconsult.
A similar contract with Astrium will supply two Earth-observation satellites to Kazakhstan, including the DZZ-HR 1-meter-resolution satellite slated to launch on a Vega rocket in mid-2014. The spacecraft is being built entirely by Astrium Satellites in France, based on the company's Theos platform, which Astrium used to develop Taiwan's Formosat-2 optical-imaging spacecraft. A separate, 200-kg satellite dubbed MRES is a collaboration between Astrium and SSTL. The 7-meter-resolution spacecraft is based on the SSTL-150 platform with heritage technologies developed for the 2.5-meter-resolution NigeriaSat-2 that launched in 2011.
The contract is part of a broader agreement under which Astrium will train Kazakh engineers, build a satellite integration center in Astana and provide access to optical and radar imagery from France's SPOT satellites and Germany's TerraSAR-X radar spacecraft.
Astrium is also helping Vietnam develop a domestic space capability with the first of four Earth-observation satellites Hanoi plans to build through the end of the decade. The contract with the Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology covers development, build and launch of the 13-kg VNREDSat-1A, capable of 2.5-meter black-and-white and 10-meter multispectral resolution with a 17.5-km swath, plus ground control; an image-receiving station; and a training program for 15 Vietnamese engineers. Based on the AstroSat100 bus used for Chile's Sistema Satelital para la Observacion de la Tierra program and the Alsat-2 satellite built with Algeria, VNREDSat-1A is slated to launch in April as a secondary payload on Vega.
Despite such assistance, however, Campenon says most emerging space programs are a long way from developing indigenous sophisticated high-resolution imaging capabilities of their own.
“From a technological point of view, the step from medium- to high-resolution is huge,” Campenon says.