According to Turkey’s Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, if all goes well, Turkey’s new generation communication satellite Turksat 3A will be launched on June 12 from French Guiana into geosynchronous orbit. The launch, originally scheduled for January, was repeatedly postponed due to unexpected technical difficulties with the launching software and other problems (Anadolu Ajansi, June 1). Turksat 3A will allow Turksat to expand its existing satellite services, which currently cover not only Turkey but Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, as well as allowing the company to offer improved telecommunication services as well as direct TV broadcasting. According to Arianespace Chief Executive Jean Yves Le Gall, the rocket carrying Turksat 3A will also launch a Skynet 5C communications satellite (Anadolu Ajansi, May 30).
Turkey has long been interested in utilizing satellite communications. Turksat was set up in July 2004 to manage Turkey’s communications satellites after Turkish Telecommunications was privatized. Turkey’s satellite program began when Turksat 1B was launched into space in 1994. By 2006 the country had three geosynchronous communications satellites in orbit; Turksat 3A will be the fourth (www.turksat.com.tr).
The press releases are noticeably silent about two aspects of the new communications satellite. The first is cost. The second concern, directly linked to terrorism, is the issue of the communications satellites’ transponders.
Satellites equipped with “bent pipe” transponders can be hijacked by terrorists to broadcast propaganda. Starting in March 2005, Sri Lanka’s insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) hijacked an Intelsat-12 geosynchronous satellite with bent pipe transponders to broadcast its propaganda, its media website reported. The LTTE also operates a satellite broadcast channel. National Television of Tamileelam (NTT) uses Eurostar at 11.5GHz and reaches India, parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and China for two hours (www.tamiltigers.net). Beginning in April 2007 the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington asked Intelsat and the American government to halt the transmissions, which took the company several months to block” (Asian Tribune, March 10, 2007). More recently, the LTTE hijacked and continues to use a communications satellite belonging to Hong Kong-based AsiaSat, after it unilaterally terminated a contract it had signed with NTT (Nation on Sunday, May 17).
Nor are the LTTE the only dissidents to have hijacked communications satellites. In 2002 and 2005 China’s Falun Gong spiritual movement, outlawed as a ”cult” in China in July 1999, hacked AsiaSat satellites to broadcast their propaganda as well.
Bent-pipe satellites’ “dumb” transponders rebroadcast anything that they receive within their frequency band. Cost considerations mean that bent-pipe communications satellites are still the most common technology currently in use, despite the fact that they have no real defenses against such hacking. Economic considerations remain a major part of the reason for the continued reliance on bent pipe satellite technology, as they cost one-half the price of satellites equipped with onboard processing technology. There is an immense disparity in costs between hijacking the satellite and providing security, as voids in the transponders can be identified by using a spectrum analyzer in conjunction with a satellite-receiving dish at a cost of only a few hundred dollars for hardware and software.
As the Kurdish PKK reportedly has a television program, Roj TV, which it broadcasts from Denmark, the Turksat 3A’s 24 Ku-band transponders are undoubtedly equipped with onboard processing technology designed to lock out rogue signals. The Turksat 3A is based on the Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000B2 design. The new generation Turksat 3A will replace the aging Turksat 1C satellite (Anadolu Ajansi, May 8)
Turksat 3A will also be a tool advancing Turkish diplomatic interests. Turkey is deeply interested in bettering its relations with Turkmenistan in order to gain access to the country’s vast natural gas riches. As the country opens up, Turkmenistan’s Communications Ministry will be including Turksat broadcasts in a project it is overseeing to create a cable net package of satellite TV channels for residents in the capital Ashgabat (Neitralnyi Turkmenistan, January 31).
Turksat is expanding its capabilities far beyond mere transmission of broadcasts. According to Turksat Director General Ozkan Dalbay, “We are also working on a project called ‘e-government’ whereby Turkish citizens will receive public services on the Internet, including services related to social security, finance, security, title deeds and education” (Anadolu Ajansi, November 16, 2007).
Turkey is also about to acquire military satellite capabilities with the launch of its long-delayed Gokturk satellite. Like Turksat 3A, the Gokturk project has had a long genesis. In the late 1990s the Turkish military began planning to acquire a satellite for intelligence and reconnaissance, in 2000 signing a preliminary deal with French Alcatel. but the agreement fell through (Turkish Daily News, December 26, 2007).
Beginning in July 2006 Turkey’s Under Secretariat of Defense Industry (SSM) received tenders from Britain’s Eads Astrium, Israel’s Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Germany’s Ohb-System and Telespazio of Italy (Anadolu Ajansi, December 24, 2006).
In January Turkish Defense Industry Implementation Committee (SSIK) decided to continue its discussions for building Gokturk with Telepazio, OHB and EADS Astrium (Milliyet, January 3). SSIK eliminated IAI from the bidding on the approximately $250 million project; while no reason was given, analysts believe the decision probably resulted from Israel’s conditions, such as Jerusalem attempting to prohibit Gokturk’s use above its territory (Zaman, December 6, 2007).
The saga of the Turksat 3A and Gokturk satellites serve as reminders, if any is needed, that while the country’s technical capabilities are still evolving, Ankara’s first and foremost concern is always national interests.