Since its independence in October 1991, Azerbaijan has been seeking application satellites to support its development. On February 7, 2013, Azerspace 1, its first satellite dedicated to telecommunications, was launched.
In October 1973, the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) was held for the first time in Baku, in the Soviet Union, on the initiative of Heydar Aliyev, then First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, one of the republics constituting the USSR. This instills in the field of space research a local momentum that sees the same year the creation of the Kaspii center of the Academy of Sciences in charge of Earth observation. Thus, if Aliyev encourages the development of telecommunications, on their side, Azeri scientists are interested in the development of techniques and methods in the field of remote sensing. Equipment for the Soviet space is also designed as sensors embedded in the Phobos probes, an X-ray spectrometer and the electrophoresis experiment Ainur for the Mir station carried out by the cosmonaut Musa Manarov (born in Baku), etc.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan became independent on October 18 1991. A period of uncertainty and unrest followed, during which the National Aerospace Agency of Azerbaijan (ANAA) was created in 1992, from a research center of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan. The idea is first to learn new managerial methods, and to give birth to a national space program by reflecting on the types of activities likely to be interesting for the country, knowing that it no longer has significant funding as in the days of the USSR. Two fields then seem to be within the reach of the Azeris: telecommunications and remote sensing (natural resources).
From ANAA to Azercosmos OJSC
With Heydar Aliyev's return to power (September 1993), new ambitions take shape. At the space level, there is the desire to develop an important industrial fabric, especially in telecommunications, a theme dear to Aliyev since the 1970s and 80s. When Heydar Aliyev died in 2003, his son Ilham Aliyev succeeded him and continued the dynamic. While the activities of the ANAA were transferred in 2006 to the Ministry of Defense Industry, the Ministry of Transport, Communication and High Technology set up the Azercosmos OJSC (Open Joint Stock Company) on May 3, 2010 to develop and operate application satellites, starting with those for telecommunications.
The telecommunications program Azerspace
Having, however, no capacity to build the satellite, Azercosmos solicits the American group Orbital sciences corporation (acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2018), which requires a cost of about 120 million dollars to achieve it. With a mass at launch of 3,275 kg, the satellite named Azerspace 1 is equipped with 12 transponders in Ku band and 24 others in C band, the first should cover Europe and Central Asia, the second Europe, Central Asia, plus Africa. Azerbaijan intends to develop cooperation with African companies, such as the Kenyan company CommCarrier (based in Nairobi). The African dimension being important, the satellite will also be named Africasat 1.
On February 7 2013, an Ariane 5 ECA launcher (VA 212) placed into orbit two telecommunication satellites the Spanish Amazonas 3 and the Azeri Azerspace 1 (at 46° East). The latter is then one of the satellites with the strongest signal over Azerbaijan. About 100 local and international TV and radio channels are broadcast via satellite in Azerbaijani, Turkish, Russian, English, and a few other languages.
Such was the success that on December 2, 2015, Azercosmos signed a new agreement with the French group Arianespace for the launch of Azerspace 2 (built by the American Space Systems/Loral).
The Azersky Earth observation program
Parallel to Azerspace, Azercosmos is negotiating with the Airbus DS group to acquire a high-resolution (1.5 m) optical Earth observation satellite. Again, lacking the skills to manufacture such a satellite, Azercosmos obtained an agreement on December 2, 2014 to buy the French Spot 7 satellite (launched on June 30, 2014). Renamed Azersky 1, it is handed over to Azercosmos OJSC. The contract also allows for the training of personnel for Azercosmos' new satellite control center located near Baku and inaugurated in June 2017. In July 2018, during President Aliyev's visit to France, a cooperation agreement was then signed between CNES and Azercosmos, in the fields of remote sensing, Earth observation and exploration of the universe.
The Azersky satellite is operated in many fields, such as agriculture, ecology and environment, infrastructure planning and monitoring, cadastral data updating, research on oil pollution at sea and on land and other areas, but also for the defense and security of the country... and most likely in the war it is waging against its neighbor Armenia.
As for Azercosmos, its status is evolving : it is transformed on February 26, 2016 into a public joint stock company, is detached on October 17, 2017 from the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technology, to become on April 27, 2021 a real space agency directly under the authority of the head of state.
Fifty years after hosting the International Astronautical Congress for the first time, Baku is preparing to host the world space community at the 74th IAC next September. For Azeri authorities "the 2023 International Astronautical Congress will tangibly strengthen Azerbaijan's position in the field of space exploration and give the country an impetus to become one of the driving forces of the global space industry. This is likely to be an opportunity to establish closer ties with new partners and enhance the country's reputation, provided the Russian-Ukrainian war does not have serious repercussions by then...
-An article: "Azerbaijan: Onward march of space industry progress", Ayya Lmahamad, in Azernews, 22 October 2021
- A second article: "New Directions of Azerbaijan National Aerospace Agency", Arif S. Mehtiyev, in Azerbaijan International, Summer 1995
- The site of Azerkosmos.
The author thanks Christian Lardier for proofreading and his wise advice.
Philippe Varnoteaux is a doctor of history, a specialist in the early days of space exploration in France, and the author of several reference works
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