Turkey Aims for 2023 Moon Landing as Other Countries Wean Off Russia

Turkey will likely work with Russia, but China and UAE have sent self-led space missions to Mars.
Brad Bergan

Turkey could be the next country to wean itself off of major space programs like the United States and Russia's, following the footsteps of China, the United Arab Emirates, India, Japan, and constituent states of the European Union.

Multiple entities recently placed spacecraft in orbit of Mars for the first time, with the Unites States' Perseverance aiming to join the party. But with the advance of spacefaring capabilities — compounded by the rise of private aerospace companies like SpaceX — countries long-dependent on major space players like Russia and the U.S. are beginning to wean themselves off of foreign assistance and begin a new era of multinational space exploration.

Turkey aims for 2023 moon landing while other countries wean off Russia

Turkey's President Erdogan said his country aims to land on the moon by 2023 during a Tuesday press conference amid the inauguration of the country's National Space Program — in addition to the Turkey Space Agency.

"Our first goal is to land on the moon by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey," said Erdogan, according to a Daily Sabah report. "I believe Turkish engineers will manage to carry out this mission."

"Turkey's goal is to create a global brand that would compete in the field of next-generation satellite development," added Erdogan. The country also plans to send a Turkish citizen into space for a scientific mission, and aims to send a high-resolution Earth observation satellite — called IMECE — into orbit.

However, while Erdogan emphasized Turkey's aim to build its own spaceport — he was quick to mention international cooperation.

Turkey's space ambitions to partner with Russia

Unless Turkey can complete its spaceport and design a new spaceworthy rocket in two years, the country's 2023 commitment will likely need assistance.

Russia and Turkey are already preparing a bilateral deal to cooperate in the space industry, according to a statement from the Russian space agency. The agreement will build "a solid foundation for the further successful cooperation betwean countries in the field of space," said Roscosmos, according to a Turkish news report.

"We are always happy to work with Turkish colleagues and look forward to obtaining their proposals for the development of joint space projects," read the Roscosmos statement, said the Turkish news report.

Turkey also partnered with SpaceX and Airbus

However, this comes one month after SpaceX launched a Turkish communications satellite — called Turksat 5A — into low-earth Orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Turkish satellite was built by Airbus, and will remain in space for at least 15 years.

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SpaceX will also lift a second communication satellite of Turkey's later this year — called Turksat 5B. In the coming decade, the country may continue partnering with Elon Musk's aerospace company while developing a new cooperative initiative with Russia — creating a unique double bilateral space program betwean the company and nation.

United Arab Emirates' probe entered Mars orbit

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully put a probe into orbit around Mars on Tuesday, after a 27-minute deceleration burn. Called "Hope," the probe slowed from 75,000 mph to 11,000 mph (121,000 km/h to 18,000 km/h) as it neared the Red Planet.

"This has been a remarkable journey of humanity," said the UAE Space Agency's Chairperson Sarah Al Amiri as mission control prepared to insert the probe into Mars orbit, according to a Space.com report.

Going forward, the UAE aims to launch and land its own spacecraft on the moon in 2024 — in addition to an ambitious project called Mars 2117, to extend the nation's reach into deep-space, for the first time.

China's first mission to Mars

China also joined the Mars club on Wednesday when its probe called Tianwen-1 made orbital entry around Mars, just one day after the UAE's probe did the same. This made China the sixth space-worthy entity to send a probe to the Red Planet, after the U.S., the Soviet Union, the European Space Agency, India, and UAE.

This marked a major leap forward for the country as the first wholly China-led mission. The nation's last attempt at a Mars venture ended in tragedy when the Russian-led mission to lift an earlier probe of China's crashed and burned.

Private aerospace firms can help countries wean off Russian and US dependence

However, unlike UAE's orbital probe, China's spacecraft aims to drop a lander and rover to seek out hidden water reservoirs under the ancient surface of Mars.

While China — like many countries — has relied on Russian support for space-bound ambitions in the past, the cases of Turkey and the U.S. serve as a third way for space-travel hopefuls around the world. Instead of shouldering the heavy lifting of rocket launches on the sole finances of a single national government — or in partnership with another country — international space agencies that wean themselves off of U.S. or Russian support might instead strike a deal with the growing number of private space agencies, whether Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, or another budding private spacefarer.

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