Turkiye’s first mostly indigenously made communications satellite, Turksat 6A, is launched from the US state of Florida by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on July 08, 2024. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images)

BEIRUT — Turkey launched and successfully deployed its first mostly homegrown communications satellite Monday, joining a relatively small club of nations capable of locally developing most of the technology.

Turksat 6A (T6A), which is dual-purposed for civil and military uses, was launched from SpaceX’s facility in Florida by the Falcon 9 rocket. Turkey already has a handful of satellites in orbit, but Ankara has emphasized that unlike the others, for this one 81 percent of its subsystems and software was developed in Turkey and it’s the first Turkish satellite to make its home in geosynchronous orbit.

“We are pleased to strengthen our cooperation with Elon Musk and SpaceX in various fields,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a press conference.

Erdogan’s vice president, Cevdet Yilmaz, said today, “Turksat 6A is a product of our national technology move which we have implemented with a strong political will and the know-how we have acquired through our engineers and defense industry.”

Yilmaz added that it is “extremely important to be independent in such a strategic area with domestic and national technologies.”

Turksat 6A’s orbit is set to allow it to cover a wide swath of the earth, including Turkey, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Sitki Egeli, former director of international affairs at the Turkish Undersecretariat for Defense Industries and currently a professor at Izmir Economics University, said that T6A “is coming into fruition of an ambitious goal defined almost 15 years ago: placing Turkish built satellites into GEO.

“Several Turkish-made satellites have already been built and successfully placed in orbit over the last decades … but those were all destined for the much closer LEO [low Earth orbit]. Moreover, Turkish-built satellites have so far been confined to the earth observation missions,” Egeli told Breaking Defense.

Egeli said the new satellite is owned and operated by Turkey’s civilian telecom authority, but said TA6, like its predecessors, also functions with bandwidth used exclusively by the military. Turksat-6A is equipped with Ku-Band and X-Band communication payloads produced by Turkish electronic giant Aselsan.

Aselsan said in a statement that the payloads it has provided that satellite will serve for 15 years in orbit.

“Following the successful completion of the launch and the early operations phase, payload testing will be performed for the first time by ASELSAN engineers. In 2024, TÜRKSAT-6A is expected to begin serving our nation’s satellite communication needs,” the Aselsan statement said.

Ryan Bohl, senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at the RANE network said it was the X-Band capability that’s key to any defense-related capabilities.

“The Turksat 6A’s biggest military application is enhanced military communications. It’s X-Band comms will provide Turkish forces with enhanced communications for forces in remote and/or regions with higher levels of weather interference,” Bohl told Breaking Defense. “This will also be a system that Turkey doesn’t have to share with anyone else, unlike the current network of NATO satellites, giving Turkish forces priority and greater flexibility in the space communications arena.”

Ali Bakir, assistant professor at Qatar University and nonresident senior fellow at Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative, said the launch was a “significant milestone for Turkey as it places the country on another prestigious list” after Ankara joined the ranks of unmanned aircraft and fighter jet makers.

“Turkey is now one of only 10 countries capable of producing their own communication satellite,” Bakir told Breaking Defense.

“This step is critical to Turkey’s defense-related space sector, as it demonstrates the country’s technological capabilities and self-reliance in developing and operating its own space-based assets. This achievement can boost Turkey’s defense industry by fostering the development of domestic space technology and expertise, reducing reliance on foreign satellite systems for military applications, enabling the creation of new opportunities for research,” Bakir said.

Turkeys increased footstep in the heavens comes as its Gulf neighbors to the south are also seeking more space capabilities, meaning that they could look to Ankara, experts said.

Bakir said Turkey’s proress could be seen “as a valuable asset” for Gulf nations’ own “defense and security needs,” either through collaboration on satellite related projects, joint “utilization” of existing systems or codevelopment of new ones.

Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at the US-based geopolitical consultancy Gulf State Analytics, highlighted pushes by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman in the field of space and said he believed it “highly likely” that “come type of cooperation” with Turkey could develop.

Then again, the complex web of partnerships, alliances and cooperative agreements between the region and bigger players farther away could always come into play.

“Gulf States may not take that risk [to work with Turkey] because they’re actively part of the Artemis Program and perhaps don’t want to lose those contracts; yet other Gulf States may want to work with China too. Turkish President Erdogan’s outreach to China and Russia may play a role in the further development of Gulf space industry,” Karasik concluded.