Ever eager to use its underground energy riches to fuel its above-ground ambitions, Azerbaijan has selected an unnamed manufacturer to produce a second satellite. But along with developing a space industry, the South Caucasus country has now forayed into another, far more down-to-earth business, too — producing bicycles.
The satellite, of course, is the celebrity. Azerbaijani officials said on October 5 that they have made their pick from international bidders to supply AzerSpace-2. The bidders include two US companies — the Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK and Palo Alto, California-based Space System Loral; China’s Great Wall Industry Corp and France’s Airbus Defense and Space.
Communications Minister Ali Abbasov said the selection will be announced soon. “The launch of the satellite is expected in late 2017 or early 2018,” the minister told Trend.az.
Azerbaijan bought its first satellite, AzerSpace-1, from Orbital Sciences Corporation, now part of Orbital ATK, a few years back. The deal came with some help from the US Export-Import Bank. The satellite’s launch from a space center in French Guiana in 2013 came amidst various efforts by Azerbaijan, brimming with energy wealth, to boost its presence internationally.
Both the US and European Union have criticized Azerbaijan for its Soviet-style control of the media and roughshod treatment of political dissent, but American and European companies alike continue to take an interest in such strategic investments.
For his part, President Ilham Aliyev in 2013 described the $230-million AzerSpace-1 as a “victory” for Azerbaijan and testimony that the country is “developing rapidly” under his guidance. His words were even accompanied by an official satellite anthem which declared that “with Ilham, we are marching toward a brighter tomorrow.”
Yet Azerbaijan is not using its hydrocarbon wealth only to reach for the stars.
A bicycle plant that will churn out 30,000 bikes per year is scheduled to open in Azerbaijan’s Ismayilli region this year, AzerNews reported on October 5. The bicycles are modeled on Bulgarian's Drag models, but unlike satellites, will be manufactured locally.
Whether or not a song is also in the works for the launch of Azerbaijan’s first bicycles could not be immediately determined.