Summer 1995 (3.2)
Azerbaijan's National Aerospace Agency
by Arif S. Mehtiyev, General Director
Baku's Aerospace Lab
When people hear about us for the first time, they often ask, "What's an Aerospace Agency doing in Azerbaijan?" I understand their skepticism. After all, Azerbaijan is a very small country with a relatively small population. They see the severe economic conditions we are dealing with these days and assume it has always been this way.
Under the Soviet System
But for 70 years, Azerbaijan was part of a space-oriented superpower with a highly developed military complex and hence a space military industry. The structure of the space industry of the former USSR, if we were to use Solzhenitsin's imagery, consisted of an "archipelago" of plants, research institutes, design offices and other institutions all working together to implement a national space program. These institutions were spread throughout the entire nation in nearly every republic. One such was our Scientific and Industrial Association for Space Research established in Baku in 1975.
We began our activities as an academic institution related to the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan. In fact, it was Heydar Aliyev, our current President who at that time also held the top leadership position in Azerbaijan, who helped initiate the creation of this organization. After the 24th Congress of the International Astronautical Federation which was held in Baku in 1973 and which attracted 2,000 participants, Mr. Aliyev challenged the Academy to use the research generated by the Congress to serve the interests of the nation by developing activities in this modern field of science and technology.
Later on, we expanded the boundaries of the academic institute primarily by carrying out numerous projects. The final applications of our research were put to use in both ground and space equipment. Incidentally, it's our X-ray spectrometer of "Pulsar-XI" which is still operating aboard the space orbital station, "Mir".
Aerospace-Used To Be One of the Largest Research Industries
Another reason we were so strong is that we expanded and became a very large organization. Our staff grew to include about 50 per cent of the entire personnel of the Academy of Sciences. In 1985, we had three research institutes, three design offices, one pilot plant and many smaller organizations throughout the Republic, all united under the umbrella organization-the Scientific and Industrial Association for Space Research.3
In 1985, we were absorbed by the USSR Ministry of General Machinery Engineering. "No longer is it a secret (perhaps, it wasn't such a big secret back then either) that this Ministry was responsible for developing rocket-space projects including the launching of piloted spacecrafts.
From the very beginning, the main thrust of our scientific activities concentrated on the development of Remote Sensing (RS) techniques and methods. Later on, we carried out research in other fields; for example, in astrophysics we studied meteoric particles. We were involved in designing sensors to study the Fobos surface. Since our specialists were highly trained and had studied at the best universities and research centers all over the Soviet Union, fundraising was never a problem. The Ministry always provided sufficient funds. And we were able to build our reputation in Azerbaijan to such a level that the leading Soviet space entities willingly cooperated with us.
Criteria under the New Reality
With the dissolution of the USSR and the subsequent independence of Azerbaijan, we have had to make crucial decisions. First of all, we realized it was necessary to change our managerial style. If, before, we were operating as a single island in a large archipelago executing particular orders inside the Soviet space program, now we are having to act entirely on our own in developing and implementing a national space program. We have set up a board to execute this-the National Aerospace Agency-which is based on the Scientific and Industrial Associations of Space Research.
Restructuring our organization was an important turn but, undoubtedly, more important was the necessity to define which activities we should pursue as it was absolutely clear that we could not succeed with everything we wanted to do.
There were many compelling reasons why. First of all, we no longer had the generous financial support which used to provide for the richest ministry in the USSR. Second, we had lost many of our highly qualified specialists. Third, because of the prolonged war with Armenia, many fundamental research projects had been interrupted. As one official in charge of the science funds pointed out, "We have no opportunity of satisfying your curiosity about the number of X-ray sources in the universe at the expense of the Republic's scanty budget." This meant that designing devices related to astrophysics had to stop.
We set about to establish the criteria for future projects. First, we realized that we had no choice but to address the contemporary needs of Azerbaijan. Otherwise, everybody's pet project would be evaluated as worthwhile. Secondly, we had to be able to carry out research within our own resources, in other words, without the traditional cooperation of a great number of institutes outside of our country, including those from the "near abroad" (which is the way the former Soviet Republics refer to each other).
Clearly, space research is global both in the realistic and figurative sense of the word, and that's the reason why only major countries with huge resources and possibilities are able to work independently. In our case, cooperation with other countries has had to be minimized at present because of economical reasons.
We were left with two major fields of investigation: aerospace environmental monitoring and processing of Remote Sensing (RS) information and its transfer to users.
Let me explain why we chose these two fields. For many years we had been involved with taking RS measurements of various characteristics of the earth's surface objects. A broad range of airborne devices which were operating in the visible, infrared and microwave regions of electromagnetic spectrum enabled us to study a large class of problems of so-called space landing use.
On the other hand, highly qualified personnel had been working with us for nearly 20 years doing space data interpretation and achieving promising results. They have developed sophisticated methods of data processing which can be very relevant for various branches of our economy.
A key point of the program is obtaining images of the earth surfaces from space, since such monitoring is impossible without having a regular means of receiving the data. We can do this with the use of either Russian, American or French satellites.
For example, using French "Spot" satellites, relayed to a Baku space image receiving station, we would be able to cover by "radio visibility" a huge circle of the earth's surface with a diameter that extends from the eastern borders of Kazakhstan to the western borders of Turkey. It would be possible to receive images with a 10-20m resolution which we could then process and use to suggest ways these countries could resolve specific problems. We are soon hoping to set up data reception stations in Azerbaijan with the help of one of these countries.
Having achieved independence, we now have begun to look beyond our own borders and cooperate with our closest neighbors-Turkey, Iran, and others. In this context, the First Eurasian Symposium on Space Science and Technology held in Turkey in 1993 was very important. Our work was widely represented at the Symposium. More than 20 of our scientists delivered papers. We, in turn, began to see how space science and technology have been developing in Turkey and became acquainted with the work of the Turkish committee on Space Research which is headed by Dr. Fuad Inche. Subsequently, we signed an agreement of cooperation between our agency and Turkey's Marmara Research Center.
The Iranian Remote Sensing Center under the direction of its president, Dr. Farshid Jahedi, proposed cooperation at the UN Regional Education Center of Remote Sensing in Tehran which is now under construction. We're hopeful that after its completion, we will be able to cooperate with them. We also want to establish cooperation with Egypt, Thailand and Pakistan.
While developing new bonds, we're trying to sustain old ones. In 1992, the CIS countries set up the Interstate Council on Space. This Council worked out a general space research program which is supposed to be financed by member countries. Azerbaijan has agreed to join as a full member provided we are required to finance only the parts of the program which interest us. At the present, our Republic can't afford very much and our general program is restricted to Remote Sensing as well as receiving space images for weather forecasting and mapping.
Regional Space Agencies
In June 1993, I spoke at a session of the UN Committee on "Peaceful Uses of Outer Space" and stressed the idea of establishing regional space agencies. Generally, countries all over the world share similar problems and many of them could be handled more practically on a regional, rather than national basis. Take ecology, for example. In South America, space tracking the condition of the jungle is certainly a matter of interest to several countries in the region. The same is true of Northern Africa in relation to the desert and underground water sources. Uniting efforts would maximize financial, scientific and technical efforts for entire regions.
I believe that a Regional Space Agency uniting Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and some of the other countries of the region would be helpful in surveying environmental pollution, and general conditions of forest, agricultural fields, soils, etc.
Regional cooperation in space applications was the main idea at the Ministerial Conference on Space Application for Development in Asia and the Pacific at ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) in Beijing in September 1994. This was the first time Azerbaijan was able to take part as a full member.
In September 1995 we will be hosting the Second Eurasian Conference on Space Sciences and Technology in Baku. We are inviting all scientists and specialists in space research to join us at this conference. (See "Opportunities" section in magazine for details.)
Looking back over the past three years, I would like to think that we have passed our most difficult period. We face the future with optimism. We have clear-cut ideas about what to do and how to go about achieving our goals. We understand our potential, as well as our limitations, in terms of financial, scientific, and technical abilities. The core of our scientific and engineering staff is still with us. And what is more, there is a tendency for some of our finest specialists who had left because of poor salaries to begin to return as the challenge of scientific work and better funding becomes available.
I have no doubt that the idea of a regional space agency will, eventually, find support and will be materialized. This, in turn, will stimulate cooperation with advanced countries, including NASA, the European Space Agency as well as other regional space organizations.
Arif Mehtiyev is General Director of the Azerbaijan National Aerospace Agency located at 159 Azadlig Street, Baku 370106. Tel: (99412) 62-93-87 or Fax: (99412) 62-17-38.
From Azerbaijan International (3.2) Summer 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.