Telecom Review Africa conducted an exclusive interview with Fuad Aslanov, Azercosmos’ vice chairman and chief commercial officer, to discuss the mission and vision of Azercosmos. He shed light on the company’s key goal of ensuring a great customer experience. He outlined some notable challenges facing the space industry and detailed some solutions. Aslanov shared his thoughts on IAC 2023 and the upcoming goals the company is focusing on.

Can you please tell us more about the mission, vision and values of Azercosmos?

Almost two years ago, Azercosmos was revamped into the Space Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which allowed us to unfold new horizons and a wide spectrum of possibilities. Operating three satellites — two telecommunication satellites (Azerspace-1 2013 and Azerspace-2 2018) and one earth observation satellite (Azersky 2014) — our mission and vision are to create and develop advanced technological solutions for peace and prosperity in space activities and to make Azerbaijan one of the driving forces of the global space industry. We share a set of key values: diligence, collaboration, integrity, curiosity, and agility. All processes in Azercosmos are based fundamentally on these values.

From your perspective as an industry leader, what is the key to ensuring the best customer experience?

I read a phrase a couple of years ago: “The focus of the customer experience must be on engaging, not managing, customers.” I totally agree with this phrase, and I am sure that customer experience is a connection with customers based on their needs, not vice versa.

Great value, customization and customer-centricity differentiate us from other players in the market. I would say that we are agile, responsive and customer-oriented, which we try to reflect in all of our marketing activities, sales negotiations and technical assistance.

We are always seeking to do more, increase our knowledge of our customer requirements and work closely with them. And this comes primarily from our consultative approach to customers. Our point of difference is that we are not attempting to sell anything; rather, we want to comprehend what our clients want and assist them in achieving their business goals. Our talented multilingual team enables us to interact and function in a variety of cultural environments.

What challenges face the space industry today? What solutions do you envision?

The space industry is developing and changing rapidly. Surely, there are lots of challenges and opportunities. I would highlight one of the main challenges — space technological challenges, which consist of several parts, such as the Protection of Humans, the Earth Environment, Large Space Structures, In-Orbit Servicing and Active Debris Removal, and so on. Regarding debris removal, fortunately, it doesn’t pose a huge risk to space exploration efforts at the moment. However, there is a danger to other satellites in orbit that they can hit [such debris] and get damaged or even destroyed. On this issue, lots of scientists are trying to find solutions, and startups are presenting new ideas. Let’s hope very soon there will be a solution to this. 

Another challenge I can mention is space navigation. You might know that navigation in space differs from navigation in the air or at sea. The solution to this matter should consider four major directions of the navigation of space: motion, distances, communication and gravity.

Whatever challenges we talk about, the solution comes down to research and development in science technologies. Very recently, we have created a new department at Azercosmos, the Research & Development Team. Professionals on this team work on different tasks and search for solutions. By the way, now on our list of priorities, we have the expansion of scientific research in the space field and the development of human capital through establishing cooperation with space industry players and scientific and educational institutions, including establishing the Assembly Spacecraft, Integration and Test Centre, exchange programs and more. Along with this, we plan to support start-ups — innovative small- and medium-sized businesses in the space industry.

“Give space a chance.” Can you tell us more about the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) 2023?

Being a member since 2003, Azerbaijan has been actively involved in the International Astronautical Federation’s activities. However, our ties with the IAF and the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) date back to 1973. For 70 years, the IAC has been a global platform for promoting space for the wellbeing of the whole world. And we are proud of the legacy that the 24th IAC, held in Baku in 1973, has left us with.

Now that the IAC returns to our region after such a long time, under the theme Global Challenges and Opportunities: Give a Chance to Space, it will bring a breath of fresh air not only to Azerbaijan but to the whole region. It will contribute to the regional space platform with many new ideas, discussions and debates while also creating opportunities for guests to immerse themselves in Azerbaijan’s rich culture. As the transportation, business and space hub of the region, Azerbaijan will ensure the greatest benefits to all the participants in the upcoming IAC. IAC 2023 in Baku is an exclusive opportunity for leading and mid-range space companies to meet with their prospective customers from Europe, the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Asia. In terms of organizational standards, the IAC in Baku will be approached with special attention and dedication. Our institutions and people have mobilized their powers in order to organize and deliver an exceptional congress experience to all participants.

In a nutshell, the Azerbaijan Space Agency, Azercosmos, will inspire new collaboration and cooperation with established space actors and the broader space community during IAC 2023.

What goals and future plans is Azercosmos focusing on in 2023?

The year 2023 has started with a significant date for Azercosmos: on February 8th, we celebrated the 10-year Anniversary of the Azerspace-1 satellite. Ten years have passed since the launch of the first telecommunication satellite of Azerbaijan.

For the upcoming years, we have several priorities, including ensuring the sustainability of existing satellite services by planning to replace satellites that are ending their service lives in orbit with new ones and implementing innovative or new-generation satellite projects. Another priority is the formation of local production potential in the space field, the creation of jobs and employment opportunities.

For 2023, we plan to actively work on development and new ways of improvement. There is constant work on finding new sources of income, such as the purchase of the KA broadcast beam from other broadcasting companies and selling it within the African region.

It is worth emphasizing that we have strong capabilities in the provision of export-oriented satellite and teleport services. The recent figure I want to share with you is that 91% of Azercosmos’ revenues are being generated outside of the country. This enables us to position ourselves as a reliable partner, able to investigate new horizons and expand cooperation with the global space industry.

When it comes to teleport services, we have been granted Tier 4 certification from the World Teleport Association. Our Baku teleport is the only one granted the highest grade within the region, particularly in the Caucasus and Central Asian regions.

Based on our existing facilities and service infrastructure, we are working on the creation and expansion of our value-added services. With these projects, we aim to expand the geography of our services as well as establish new commercial partnerships and agreements. We have launched a new project on the commercial use of the Azercosmos’ Direct Receiving Station (DRS). Its unique location between Europe and Asia, where East meets West, enables operators to directly access their LEO satellites and to instantly downlink data without having their own ground-based infrastructure.

We are planning to extend our cooperation in that direction as well. What I can give as an example is the planned deployment of EGNOS’ RIM station in Baku, which will be the eastern point serving the expansion of the GALILEO global navigation satellite system. The service will have a positive impact on various sectors, including aviation, marine, automobiles and railroads, cartography and agriculture, not only in Azerbaijan but also in the region.

Generally, the goal of Azercosmos is to create an ecosystem and stimulate the enabling innovations that lead to a future cascade of development within the space and high-tech sector in Azerbaijan. The second direction is to partner with established actors in the space industry in order to be part of global product development and production.

We are confident that we will deliver on this target as we already have the main component of success, which is the human resources.

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