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Baku developing satellite to kick off national space program

BAKU – From wire dispatches | 12/3/2009 12:00:00 AM |

First came oil. Now comes space. Flush with energy revenues, Officials in Baku are intent on launching Azerbaijan’s first satellite by 2011.

First came oil. Now comes space. Flush with energy revenues, officials in Baku were intent on launching Azerbaijan’s first satellite by 2011. The government saw getting into the satellite communications sector as a way to diversify Azerbaijan’s hydrocarbons-based economy. But some local critics were expressing doubt about whether Azerbaijan has the technological muscle to compete in the global satellite market.

An American defense contractor, the Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp., had undertaken to manufacture AzerSat, as the satellite was called, at a project cost of between $140 million-$160 million, the government said. Aside from military monitoring, intra-governmental and mobile telephone communications, the satellite will have television, radio and Internet broadcast capabilities, accessible in Europe and Central and Southeast Asia, EuraisaNet reported.

The government was entirely financing AzerSat, expected to launch by December 2011. Officials hope to recoup the outlay investment within six to seven years after the first launch, the Trend news agency quoted Communications and Information Technologies Minister Ali Abbasov as saying earlier in November. Azerbaijan will use about 20 percent of AzerSat’s capacity, according to Abbasov; the remainder will be leased to companies in Europe and Asia. The satellite was reportedly expected to have 16 transponders, devices used for sending and receiving radio signals.

Azerbaijan has little previous experience in the aerospace industry. During the Soviet era, a few Azerbaijani plants produced equipment for the Soviet Union’s space projects, but their facilities are now out-of-date.

A senior official at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies told EurasiaNet that Baku has reached a preliminary agreement with companies in several countries, including Georgia and Moldova, which have expressed an interest in using AzerSat in the future. Domestic clients are expected to use "at least 60 percent" of the satellite’s capacity in the first years following launch; the remaining 40 percent would be leased to foreign clients, said the official, who asked not to be named.

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