LE BOURGET, France — Turkey’s Gokturk-1 high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite will be launched into low Earth orbit in 2015 aboard Europe’s new Vega small-satellite launch vehicle under a contract announced June 18 by the Arianespace launch services provider and Gokturk-1 prime contractor Telespazio of Italy.

Gokturk-1 illustrates how far the global Earth observation market has come in terms of the power of the satellites available for commercial sale. Gokturk-1, to weigh 1,100 kilograms at launch, will be able to detect objects as small as 70 centimeters in diameter in black and white, and 2.8 meters in color.

Gokturk-1 will be operated in a polar low Earth orbit 700 kilometers in altitude. The Gokturk relationship between Telespazio — and satellite builder Thales Alenia Space — and Turkey mirrors a similar agreement that Astrium of France has struck with the government of Kazakhstan. In both cases, the European prime contractor has agreed to deliver a satellite that only a few years ago would have been considered as having military specifications — Kazakhstan’s DZZ-HR has a 1-meter imager — to an allied government with few strings attached on its use.

The contract is also an example of the pent-up demand for launch vehicles small enough to handle small Earth observation satellites for customers with limited budgets. It is this market that European launch officials hope to attract with Vega, which has conducted two successful first flights.


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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews.