Azerbaijan’s Space Ambitions Grow

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 42


Executive Summary:

  • Azerbaijan has been developing its space industry in the past couple of years to boost its international reputation and elevate the country as a regional hub for science and technology.
  • Expansion of the Azerbaijani space industry has led to partnerships with Israel, Türkiye, China, and Western companies such as Space-X.
  • The Azerbaijani government has set a goal of transitioning to a knowledge-based economy and views space exploration as a central driver of economic growth and development.

Azerbaijan’s space industry has been quite busy this year. On January 12, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Digital Development and Transport announced that the country secured an orbital slot for its own satellites. The government ministry revealed that the C and Ku frequency bands utilized by the Azerspace-1 satellite positioned in the 46-degree east orbital slot have officially been placed under Baku’s authority (, January 14). More recently, on March 11, the Innovation and Digital Development Agency announced plans to increase funding for high-tech education programs, including nuclear science, innovation-driven research, and space-related disciplines (, March 11). These developments, among others, highlight Azerbaijan’s renewed focus on developing more independent capabilities and courting new partners to achieve Baku’s ambitious plans in space. 

These more concerted efforts began to take shape at the end of last year. On October 3, Azerbaijan’s space agency Azercosmos acquired two multi-spectral electro-optical spy satellites from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for around $120 million as part of the Azersky-2 program (Jerusalem Post, October 3, 2023). The companies did not disclose the specific model of the satellites, but they are widely speculated to be OptSat-500 reconnaissance satellites (Turan, October 5, 2023).

The satellites will replace the Airbus satellite that was originally launched by Azerbaijan in 2014. Baku lost communications with the satellite after it was damaged by space debris (Turan, April 20, 2023). The OptSat-500 satellites are planned to be launched into orbit in 2026 and 2028. According to IAI, the new satellites are designed to provide high-resolution imagery. They can take photos of the Earth’s surface from an altitude of 600 kilometers (about 372 miles) (, October 3, 2023). With a projected lifespan of approximately seven years, these satellites are expected to deliver more efficient performance at much lower costs than the OptSat-3000.

The Azersky-2 program is built on a long-term business partnership between Azercosmos and IAI. Both companies established joint innovation and entrepreneurship space centers in their respective countries (Xalq Qəzeti, October 3, 2023). Azerbaijan has long been one of IAI’s closest partners. For example, they worked together to obtain Hermes-450 and Orbiter-1K reconnaissance drones used in Baku’s conflict with Yerevan over Karabakh (Haaretz, October 1, 2023). Azerbaijan and Israel have sought to intensify their cooperation on space and reconnaissance capabilities amid growing animosity with Iran.

The March 2023 agreement was presented at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku (, October 2, 2023). More than 5,000 representatives from 101 countries attended the event. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk participated virtually in the congress, sharing his views on future space exploration plans and the existence of extraterrestrial life (, October 5, 2023). In May 2023, Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, signed a cooperation agreement with Azercosmos to be a reseller of the Starlink satellite-based, high-speed, and low-latency broadband Internet in Azerbaijan (, May 9, 2023). While announcing the agreement publicly, Azercosmos representatives also discussed the possibility of deploying Azerbaijani satellites into orbit using SpaceX Falcon rockets in the coming years.

Baku is also pursuing broader objectives to accomplish its space ambitions. Azerbaijan launched its first communication and observation satellite into space in 2023 as the country seeks to diversify its hydrocarbon-based economy (, February 8, 2023). Additionally, the Azerbaijani government has set a goal of transitioning to a knowledge-based economy. Space exploration is a central driver of economic growth and development (, October 4, 2023). Baku sees space exploration as a way to boost its international reputation and elevate the country as a regional leader in science and technology. By developing its space capabilities, Azerbaijan aims to position itself as a hub for space research and innovation in the South Caucasus.

Regarding security, Azerbaijan is keen to take several steps to mitigate the risks external actors may pose. In 2007, the country used satellite photography to capture the destruction of several cultural monuments in Karabakh (Azerbaijan International, September 10, 2008). These satellites were also used to monitor Armenia’s mining activities near the basin of the rivers flowing through Azerbaijan (, August 25, 2023).

Türkiye has been Azerbaijan’s closest partner on security and space matters, with their cooperation approaching a formal alliance (Iki Sahil, February 22, 2022). Ankara provides Baku with unique opportunities to build communication satellites and spacecraft at lower costs when cooperation with the West is narrowing (, October 6, 2016). The Azerbaijani government has voiced its disapproval that some Western states’ support of Armenia is hurting prospects for peace (Baku Research Institute, November 27, 2023). In addition, President Ilham Aliyev did not hide his growing discontent with the West during his inauguration speech after securing a fifth consecutive term (, February 14).

Azerbaijan and Türkiye have yet to bring highly technical joint projects to fruition. Collaboration has intensified, nevertheless, on large-scale infrastructure projects and telecommunications systems that seek to improve connectivity and facilitate the movement of goods and people between the two countries (, December 7, 2023). Currently, Ankara represents the best partner for Baku in achieving Azerbaijan’s military and diplomatic goals (Respublika, August 29, 2023). Even so, the Azerbaijani government will need to ensure, above all else, that its space ambitions do not stall if Ankara adjusts its trajectory based on economic difficulties stemming from high inflation, a massive deficit, and further depreciation of the Turkish lira (Ekonomim, January 23).

At the end of 2023, China emerged as a possible future partner for Azerbaijan. On October 3, 2023, Baku signed onto Beijing’s International Lunar Research Station project, which plans to construct a permanent Lunar base sometime in the 2030s (Azertag, October 9, 2023). The initiative is a potential competitor to the US-led Artemis Moon exploration program. While Azerbaijani-Chinese cooperation in space is in its infancy, Baku may consider expanding it if it struggles to build partnerships with the West. 

With its ambitious space initiatives, Baku hopes to become a regional leader in paving the way for future space exploration and research and seeks to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. According to Azercosmos CEO Samaddin Abbasov, the agency aims to engage further in Lunar, Mars, and interplanetary missions during the 2030s to solidify Azerbaijan’s position as an emerging leader in space (ANS Press, October 3, 2023).