WASHINGTON — Turkish telecommunications satellite operator Turksat has selected Airbus Defence and Space for the construction of two long-awaited geostationary satellites.

Ahmet Arslan, Turkey’s minister of transport, maritime and communications, told the country’s state-run media outlet the Anadolu Agency Oct. 6 that contract negotiations are underway with Airbus for Turksat 5A and Turksat 5B, with discussions expected to conclude by the end of the month.

Airbus’ offer bested those of California-based Space Systems Loral and Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi Electric, the latter of which built Turksat’s two most recent satellites Turksat 4A and 4B.

“All three were well qualified,” Arslan said. “At the end of the talks, Airbus gave the most suitable bid in terms of financial and domestic contribution.”

Turksat is racing the clock against the expiration of Ku-band spectrum rights from the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union, making production time for Turksat 5A and 5B a major criteria. Cenk Sen, Turksat’s chief executive, said during World Satellite Business Week in Paris in September that certain Turksat-held Ku-band orbital rights expire July 2021.

Turksat is getting a later start on its next satellites than it expected. Arslan said in August 2016 that a manufacturing contract for Turksat 5A and 5B would be awarded that September or October, which didn’t happen.

Based on that 2016 schedule, Turkey hoped to have Turksat 5A in orbit by the end of 2018 at 31 degrees east, and Turksat 5B at 42 degrees east in 2019.

Turksat’s Airbus announcement, posted Oct. 10, said Turksat 5A should be in orbit by 2020, followed by Turksat 5B in 2021.

‘We will now negotiate prices with them,” Arslan said. “Our aim is to finish price negotiations by the end of this month, sign the contract and immediately start the manufacturing of these satellites.”

A major stipulation for Turksat-5A is that 25 percent of the satellite be built in Turkey. The country’s first fully domestic satellite, Turksat-6A, entered production in 2015 and is expected to launch in 2020

Sen said last month that domestic satellite manufacturing should give Turkey a technological edge, provide a desired national security capability and would create selling opportunities to neighboring countries with whom Turkey has history.  

Arslan said Turkey also has an interest in Q-band, a higher frequency spectrum of interest to the satellite industry, but sparsely used. Fleet operator Eutelsat Communications of Paris and U.S. manufacturer Space Systems Loral tested Q-band transmissions in 2016 on Eutelsat 65 West A satellite in the first half of 2016 to evaluate its potential for terabit-level broadband. Arslan said Turkey will be one of the first countries to use the higher frequency spectrum for satellite telecommunications.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...