Turkmenistan recently announced large investments into its national space program. The government planned the development of a new land remote sensing satellite, the expansion of the ground infrastructure of its space industry, and the enhancement of training programs for its specialists.
The new satellite aims to accelerate the development of many sectors of the economy and collect data from the vast Turkmen territories. Among other applications, the satellite will be used for: mapping the power lines and transformer stations, oil and gas infrastructure monitoring (fields, pipelines corridors, detect oil spills and oil refineries), geosciences (natural resources management), agriculture (farm fields and pastures measurements and agricultural production optimization) and national security (infrastructure projects and border areas monitoring)1 .
The new satellite was already mentioned in November 2015, during an official visit of Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammadov to China2,3. Further more, Turkmenistan and China were considering cooperation opportunities (between the National Space Agency of Turkmenistan and the China National Space Administration) in the field of space research 4.
From a historical perspective, the appetite for space of Turkmenistan started in 2005 when the first part of the Ruhnama (a Turkmen history interpretation written for moral guidance by the former president Saparmurat Niyazov) was blasted off on a Russian Dnper booster rocket into space. Described as an “artificial satellite” the the container included the Turkmen flag and presidential standard 5.
In October 2009, an official announcement was made regarding the development of a first national space satellite to “accelerate the development of the country’s communication systems, Internet and television, promote environmental programs and survey of new deposits, and assist successful implementation of some other state programs” in Turkmenistan6.
At that time, the Yamal satellite (owned by Russia’s Gazprom Space Systems) was providing digital TV broadcasting Russian programs representing an important tool for Russia’s influence.
Furthermore, the Russian mobile telephone company MTS (offering ) was not able to obtain a new license from the Turkmen executive to continue its services7. At that point, the MTS had 2.4 million customers for voice and Internet services representing nearly half the Turkmen population 8. With its own satellite, Turkmenistan could possibly end the Russian TV’s effect on its population and to provide a broader coverage of world new events.
As part of the announced plans for Turkmenistan’s space program, the president Berdymukhamedov founded the Turkmen National Space Agency in May 2011 9. The presidential decree established a new national space agency and marked the necessity for an infrastructure to help build and track satellites without mentioning anything about manned space flights.
The Turkmen telecommunication satellite TürkmenÄlem52°E/MonacoSAT was built by French company Thales Alenia Space and lifted-off to a geostationary orbit by the American carrier rocket SpaceX Falcon 9 on April 2015. The Turkmen team responsible for the operation management of the satellite received intensive training from Thales Alenia Space engineers 10 . Thales built and assembled the two control centers necessary to operate and control the satellite (the main Control Center located in Akhal province and the backup located in Dashoguz province)11.