Thales Alenia Begins Work on Turkish Sat

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PARIS — Satellite builder Thales Alenia Space on Sept. 7 announced that it had begun work on Turkey’s Gokturk high-resolution optical Earth imaging satellite system, which company Chief Executive Reynald Seznec said is the first time a satellite with such high resolution had been sold for export.

Gokturk, scheduled for launch in 2013, will carry an optical imager that Thales Alenia Space officials said would be similar to the one on board France’s two Pleiades imaging satellites, scheduled for launch in 2011. The Pleiades spacecraft are capable of distinguishing objects 70 centimeters in diameter in black-and-white mode, and 2.8 meters in diameter in color.

The Gokturk contract was originally signed in mid-2009 after a long competitive-bid process managed by the Turkish government. The contract, which was valued at 250 million euros ($325 million), included substantial technology transfer to Turkey as one of its conditions.

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Thales Alenia Space officials said they hoped that winning the optical satellite contract would give the company the inside track on an expected Earth observation radar satellite that Turkish authorities originally had wanted to include in the Gokturk program. The radar satellite has yet to be ordered.

The Gokturk contract was signed between the Turkish Defense Ministry and Rome-based Telespazio, the satellite services company that is owned by the same French and Italian companies that own Thales Alenia Space.

In addition to the satellite, the contract includes the creation of a satellite integration and test center in Turkey and the Gokturk ground infrastructure. Telespazio will create a joint venture with Turkish partners to develop Gokturk services.

For Thales Alenia Space, the Gokturk deal is the first contract to export an Earth observation satellite. While it shares responsibility for building French government optical satellites for commercial and government use with its main European rival, Astrium, it is Astrium that has developed a business of selling spacecraft to export customers in Europe, North Africa and Asia.