Ten years ago Turkey pledged to invest more in space technology as a means to improve the nation's intelligence-gathering, military communications and early-warning capabilities. A decade on, Turkey is investing heavily in a burgeoning space program that boasts several telecommunications spacecraft and two Earth-observation satellites, with plans to build more.

In the coming years, Ankara expects to establish a national space agency and military space command to consolidate management of existing and planned assets, which in 2033 could include a space-launch capability and more than 20 operational satellites.

In January the government approved negotiations with Turkish weapons builder Roketsan Inc. to manage the early concept design phase for the national satellite launch system, which would be capable of delivering civil and military spacecraft to orbit, according to Turkish government officials.

Over the next two decades, Turkey plans to invest in more than two dozen civil and military telecom satellites, dual-use surveillance spacecraft, navigation-and-timing, early-warning and electronic-surveillance systems, in addition to the space-launch system.

Since December 2012, Turkey's air force has been operating the nation's first medium-resolution optical imaging spacecraft, Gokturk 2. The 400-kg (882-lb.) satellite, built mostly in Turkey and launched atop a Chinese Long March 2D rocket, incorporates a German solar-generation system and an optical instrument capable of 2.5-meter (8.2-ft.) ground resolution built by South Korea.

Next year Turkey plans to launch Gokturk 1, a larger and more powerful Earth-observation spacecraft capable of sub-meter resolution. Gokturk 1 is in development under an agreement with Telespazio of Italy and Thales Alenia Space of France that includes construction of a satellite assembly, integration and test facility in Turkey.

At about 1,000 kg, the Thales-built satellite will deliver 50-cm (20-in.) resolution at nadir in black and white, according to industry sources, a capability equal to France's new twin Pleiades Earth-observation spacecraft, which are designed to capture raw data with 70-cm resolution at nadir, but which can resample images to produce pictures of 50-cm-wide objects.

More than 15 years in the making, the agreement gives Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) the opportunity to complete final integration of the Gokturk 1 at the new test facility before it is launched early next year. Turkey also has the option to purchase a follow-on spacecraft that would undergo complete assembly, integration and test in Turkey, according to industry sources.

In January, Ankara approved contract negotiations with TAI for domestic development of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) spacecraft dubbed Gokturk 3, with support from defense electronics manufacturer Aselsan and state research institute Tubitak.

With a space segment that comprises a single satellite equipped with SAR payload and a fixed main ground terminal and mobile backup ground station, Gokturk 3 is slated to launch in 2018 or 2019, providing high-resolution radar images from anywhere in the world, according to defense ministry requirements.

In the area of telecom, Turkish fleet operator Turksat has launched three communications satellites built with European know-how, some of which was imparted to Turkish engineers via technology-transfer pacts. Turksat 1C was launched in 1996, followed by Turksat 2A in 2001 and Turksat 3A in 2008.

With plans to loft at least six more over the next 20 years, Turksat is working with Mitsubishi Electric Corp. (Melco) of Tokyo in the construction of Turksat 4A and 4B, both of which are based on the Tokyo-based company's DS2000 platform. Both are slated to launch atop International Launch Services' Proton/Breeze M rockets from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan next year.

Turksat General Manager Ozkan Dalbay has said his country is committed to devoting the time and talent to develop a domestic telecommunications satellite industry. He says approximately 15 Turkish engineers will be located at Melco's Japanese production plant.

In January, Melco announced plans to establish a manufacturing facility in Istanbul, Mitsubishi Electric Turkey. The plant will be Melco's first direct presence in Turkey and will provide a base on which to expand business there and in the surrounding regions. It also gives Turkish engineers an opportunity to co-produce telecommunications satellite platforms and components, and to increase domestic skills.

The follow-on Turksat 5A is expected to be built in Turkey. By 2014, Dalbay says, Turksat hopes to sign a contact for the Turksat 6A, planned to launch in 2017, followed by Turksat 7A in 2018.

By the beginning of the next decade Turkey plans to launch three military communications satellites, scheduled to enter service in 2023, 2026 and 2030, respectively.

Other military space assets planned include a quartet of satellites that would launch in 2019 to supply electronic signals intelligence to battlefield operators. An early-warning spacecraft equipped with an infrared sensor capable of detecting ballistic missiles is also on the drawing board for 2025.

By the middle of the next decade, Ankara expects to operate a constellation of up to eight navigation, position and timing spacecraft, with up to five follow-on optical and radar-imaging satellites planned for the 2021-33 timeframe.