In July 2013, SSM concluded a contract with Roketsan to begin pre-conceptual work on a satellite launch vehicle (SLV). SSM has asked that the proposed SLV be capable of launching satellites into low-earth-orbit. Roketsan has also been asked to begin design work on the satellite launch center, which will be operated by the Turkish Air Force. These plans include work on a satellite launch center, which will purportedly be used to launch Turkish satellites in the future. In tandem, officials from TUBITAK have also hinted at plans to develop a 2,500 km range missile. There is, however, conflicting information about whether or not the missile will be ballistic or cruise.
ROKETSAN and TUBITAK have released no information about the project. However, both TUBITAK and ROKETSAN have posted youtube videos online that could help provide some clues about Turkey’s pre-conceptual SLV (and perhaps its ballistic missile ambitions). TUBITAK’s youtube video shows a silo-based system, purportedly intended to launch the RASAT. The RASAT is a small Turkish satellite that is based heavily on the BILSAT reconnaissance satellite. The BILSAT uses the Surrey UK Ltd.’s SSTL-100 platform and weighs ~130kg. The RASAT weighed ~95 kg. The silo based system is interesting, given that it was Professor Yucel Altinbasak, the head of TUBITAK, who first floated the idea of developing a 2,500 km range missile.
The video shows a purported SLV with four clustered engines, which I find interesting, considering that the Iranian Simorgh/Unha SLVs have four clustered engines. And, in the case of Iran, their satellite work is based on systems that have a similar weight to the RASAT. Although the silo basing raises questions, the most likely answer is that the 3-D video modeling team had no idea what they were doing. Yet, I can’t help but ask whether the animation was not a mistake, but rather an indicator that Altinbasak’s comment about a 2,500 km missile may have been based on some conceptual design work that has not been announced to the public.
ROKETSAN’s promotional youtube video shows a more traditional SLV launching pad, with a rocket similar in design to other SLVs. I find this video to be much more credible and a better indicator of Turkey’s SLV vision.
The most interesting part of the video is that the payload chamber has Gokturk written on it. The Gokturk project began in 2007 and includes both a locally produced satellite and a second satellite currently being built by a foreign vendor. On the local side, The Gokturk-2 was designed and developed by a consortium of Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and TÜBITAK UZAY. The much larger Gokturk-1, which is being built by Telespazio/Thales, has a similar optical system to that of the one used on France’s two Pleiades imaging satellites. Moreover, the Gokturk-1 weighs 1,000 kg vs. the 400 kg Gokturk-2. The Gotkurk-2 is based on the know-how gained from the technology transfer from the BILSAT project, combined with the infrastructure built to support the RASAT program.
Turkey is taking a segmented approach to its satellite efforts. The SSM is ok with outsourcing the construction of larger satellites to foreign vendors, but is taking concerted – and very practical – steps to build-up its mini satellite capabilities. Mini satellites refer to satellites that weigh some 400kg. Thus, if one were to make an assumption about the first generation SLV, I would presume that the intended purpose of the system will be to launch 500 kg payloads into low-earth orbit.
As of now, Turkey’s longest range missile is the J-600 Yildirim. The J-600 is based on China’s B-611 battle ballistic missile. The J-600 is assumed to have a range of 150 km when carrying a 480 kg warhead. What I’d like to know is how a country like Turkey could hope to move beyond its current experience with ballistic missiles and design an SLV capable of launching <500 kg satellites into LEO, and what such system could mean for a potential ballistic missile. I think the immediate take-away is that Turkey will not be able to develop such a system in the near future. However, if they were to continue with pre-conceptual design work, where could they then look for assistance?* And, given the current MTCR restrictions, is a coproduction/technology transfer arrangement even possible?
To be honest, I don’t have the answers to these questions. Thus, I am looking for some crowdsource help. Feel free to comment.
* There are numerous reports about a link to Ukraine and the SS-18, though I hardly take them seriously.
** Industry folks have hinted to me in private that Ankara hopes to use the design of the interceptor missile’s engine for the TLORAMIDs tender to help kickstart its SLV/Ballistic missile plans. The know-how, according to these conversations, is intended to be used to support a missile industry beyond the products ROKETSAN currently produces.