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Iran To Use Azerbaijani Imaging Satellite

Iranian and Azerbaijani space officials meet in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 1 August 2016 to sign the space cooperation MoU. Photograph courtesy of Mehrs News Agency.

A source within the Iranian communications industry revealed to Trend News in late December 2017 that Iran would continue to utilize Azerbaijan’s AzerSky satellite. The source further stated that the two countries have discussed the possibility for increased cooperation regarding satellite operations during 2018.

The AzerSky satellite was sold to Azerbaijan in December 2014 by Airbus Defense and Space, and operates as an imaging satellite for the country. It is used increasingly by the Agriculture Ministry of Azerbaijan to “[monitor] and [map] agricultural crops, assessing yield and controlling subsidized lands,” according to the Ministry’s Chief of Administration Ilham Bayramov.

While the extent of Iran’s current use of the AzerSky satellite is unknown, the resources the source refers to may very well be in connection with Iran’s own government agriculture entity. It was reported by the Financial Tribune in October 2017 that the Food and Agriculture Division of the United Nations’ Technical Cooperation Division would partner with the Iranian Ministry of Agriculture. The partnership encompasses monitoring of agricultural resources in the Kerman, Manzandaran, and Zanjan provinces of Iran through satellite imagery. Access to AzerSky satellite resources may bolster the project’s efforts to improve to field data collection. It is not clear which satellites the project is currently using for its imagery, nor which country owns them given the international nature of the effort, but the agricultural applications of AzerSky in Azerbaijan may speak to the potential for this continued use of resources to be applied to similar efforts in Iran.

While Azerbaijan only has two operational satellites (a communications satellite, Azerspace-1, and AzerSky), the Trend News source’s reference to further cooperation between Iran and its neighbor holds interesting implications. With Iran seeking to launch three satellites this year, the avenues for cooperation also appear to be increasing. The AzerSky satellite is also used by Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Moldova under the AzerSky User Group Project, launched in May 2017. Use of the satellite is determined by applications by members and chosen by Azerbaijan’s satellite operator, Azercosmos, with the requirement that project results be reported to all members so each may benefit. This arrangement may serve as a guideline for future satellite cooperation between Azerbaijan and Iran.

By Natalie Fuchs, SpaceWatch.Global’s contributing editor on Iranian space, science, and technology issues.

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