Activists Protest SpaceX Launch of Turkish Satellite

A crowd of activists has been seen at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, protesting the launch of Turksat 5A, a communications satellite that is scheduled to be launched on November 30. The protesters say that the satellite will be used to target Armenian civilians with unmanned aerial vehicles as part of ongoing tensions between Turkey and Armenia.

Some very unofficial estimates put the number of protesters at about ten thousand. Official reports, however, say that there were only several hundred people. The crowd was certainly large enough to cause traffic disruptions as they waved the Armenian flag and signs with slogans like, “Don’t Terrorize Space.”

Turkey has been openly supplying arms and training to Azerbaijan in a dispute over territory with Armenia. The nations did recently agree to a “humanitarian cease-fire,” but the fighting continues and has caused more than 350 casualties since the cease-fire was signed. Accusations of war crimes have flown on both sides, including Azerbaijan’s assertion that Armenia has hit its cities with missiles and Armenia’s accusation that Azerbaijan has used deadly cluster bombs against Armenian civilians.

Most of the public sentiment around the world has come down on the side of Armenians as historical victims of genocide. Most recently in the United States, protesters temporarily blocked traffic on 170 Freeway in North Hollywood in an attempt to raise awareness of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Tensions between Turkey and Armenia date back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, which committed genocide against Armenians. Turkey has denied that the deaths of the 1.5 million Armenians in what was called “systematic mass murder” qualifies as genocide even though it does apparently meet official definitions of genocide.

Turksat 5A was built by Airbus Defense and Space for the satellite operator Turksat to provide Ku-band and Ka-band communications for customers in Turkey, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. A second satellite, Turksat 5B, is currently being built. Although the satellites are not owned by the Turkish government, Turksat has not denied that Turkey is a customer or might become one in the future.

The activists have also engaged in a mass email campaign urging SpaceX not to launch the satellite. SpaceX has not yet issued an official response to the emails or the demonstration. It is not likely to renege on its contract to launch Turksat 5A at this late date.