At 1:35 am this morning, Azerbaijan became a member of yet another elite circle -- the world's “space club;" its membership secured with the successful launch of the South Caucasus country's first telecommunications satellite.
For President Ilham Aliyev, on hand with First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva to monitor the operation from a newly built satellite-management center near Baku, the 3.2-ton satellite, dubbed AzerSpace-1, is “another great victory showing" Azerbaijan's "success," and the start of a trek into outer space.
But unlike for another victory – Azerbaijan’s 2011 Eurovision Song Contest win  -- this time there were no street celebrations, and no sign that ordinary Baku residents had stayed up late for the event. Still, the vibe was positive.
Though AzerSpace-1 may have depended more on Azerbaijan’s ready cash ($230 million for the US-made satellite plus insurance and two management centers) than on its own astronomical know-how , the government means for that to change.
Currently, it’s paying for about 200 Azerbaijani students to study the space sciences at leading universities in Ukraine, the US and France. Upon return, these students will make up the core of an Azerbaijani space industry, the Ministry of Communications announced. To help matters along, Baku’s State Technical University opened a relevant faculty last year.
The government also roped in as an advisor on its space odyssey a former director of the Soviet Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute, physicist Roald Sagadeev.
According to President Aliyev, in 2015 and 2016 two more Azerbaijani satellites will join the AzerSpace-1. The ministry of communications, meanwhile, is busy sizing up the commercial applications.
The AzerSpace-1 satellite will cover Eastern Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, Caucasus and Middle East regions and will be able to provide Internet, TV and radio broadcasting services, interact with ground-based VSAT satellite systems as well as provide special government communications.
Communications Minister Ali Abbasov predicts that leasing out space on the satellite will let Azerbaijan recoup its cost by 2020; about 20 percent of the satellite’s capabilities will go to Azerbaijan itself, with the remaining 80 percent available to outsiders. Already, lease agreements exist for 40-percent of that share, he said, Trend reported.
For now, the satellite is renting an orbital position from a Malaysian satellite company, but, once Azerbaijan has the agreement of 30 (yes, 30) other countries, AzerSpace-1 will be able to move into its own pad at an address that sounds somewhat like a location on New York City’s tony Upper East Side – 96 East, Longitude, to be exact.