01.11.2023 Author: Boris Kushhov

Mongolia’s space initiatives – new projects in a new sector

Mongolia’s space initiatives

In 1981 Mongolia’s “space pioneer,” the astronaut Jügderdemidiin Gürragchaa, made a flight on the Salyut 39 mission. He later became the head of the Russian-Mongolian Friendship Association A great deal has changed in Mongolia since then, not least the political system and the country’s economic and social development priorities. For a long time Mongolia could not afford to dream about having a space program, first because of its struggles to alleviate the acute poverty and other woes caused by “economic liberalization,” and then because of its focus on the boom in the mining sector. Leading Mongolian media publications are full of stories about new advances in Mankind’s exploration of space, which is extremely unusual for a relatively small developing country. And the socialist tradition of issuing postage stamps celebrating space missions is still going strong. Unfortunately, both in the media stories about space exploration, and on the space-themed stamps, there has been no mention of Mongolia itself in recent decades. However, it appears that in recent years, the situation has begun to change, especially in the last year.

2023 has seen many new pages added to the history of Mongolia’s relationship with space exploration. On October 13 Mongolia’s president, Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh began a state visit to France. He took part in a number of official meetings and visited the exhibition Chinggis Khaan – How Mongols changed the world, on show in Nantes. His trip was also notable for the signing of a contract between the Mongolian government and the Franco-Italian company Thales Alenia Space to build the first Mongolian satellite, to be named “Chinggis Sat.” That contract, which covers the construction of the satellite itself, the training of specialists who will be responsible for its operation and the satellite’s launch into the selected orbit, was signed during the Mongolian-French business forum. According to Mongolian media reports, the contract is worth some $12 million.

In general, the expansion, or rather the creation, of Mongolia’s “satellite fleet” (if that is not too much of an exaggeration) is consistent with the current needs of Mongolia’s economy. The specific nature of this country, with its very low population and population density and the fact that many areas are remote from the capital, creates a number of problems that make transportation and communications infrastructure very expensive. In many cases in order to extend electricity and communication lines to remote areas of the country, a great deal of investment is required, and given Mongolia’s economic situation, such projects are unlikely ever to cover their costs. Mongolian specialists have already taken steps to remedy the lack of modern communications networks by negotiating with Elon Musk, whose Starlink satellite system is of particular interest to Mongolia. However, as paying for such services would be prohibitively expensive for a developing Asian country, Mongolia aims to develop its own modern communications infrastructure. And for this purpose even a single satellite – and it is very likely that it will not be the only one – will save considerable money that would otherwise have been spent on “ground” communication hubs.

Mongolia is also developing a project to establish a Mars-V space training center in the country. And on October 14, 2023, the dedicated working group established to discuss this initiative held its third meeting.

Since last year the experts in this working group have been discussing the proposal to establish a training center simulating Martian conditions in Mongolia, which has many regions with a landscape strikingly similar to that of the “red planet.” This initiative was first announced in early 2021.

In addition to considering its own capabilities to implement this ambitious project, Mongolia has also approached potential foreign partners. In particular, during a recent visit to the US, Mongolia’s Prime Minister took the opportunity to present this project. While there he visited the NASA headquarters, a very unusual stopping point for a foreign leader on a state visit. During his visit to the US aerospace authority’s head office on August 4, 2023, the Mongolian prime minister, Luvsannamsra Oyun-Erdene, stated that space exploration is among Mongolia’s development priorities under its Long-term Vision-2050 national program and reached an agreement with NASA officials on further cooperation.

International cooperation, which is so important for such a project, appears to be continuing. At the end of the third meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Sainbuyan Amarsaikhan, who presided over the meeting, moved that the project be presented at the United Nations and that “diplomatic missions of other countries” be informed about it.

The project, by the way, is “dual purpose” – in the best sense of that term. Alongside the Mars mission training center, which will be located in the Gobi Desert, with its sands, ravines and bitterly cold temperatures, the project developers plan to create a theme park, which, it is hoped, will showcase the tourism potential of this region. However, whether the proposed project goes ahead or not, the mere fact that such an initiative has been put forward for international discussion will provide a significant boost to Mongolia’s “soft power” and will raise its international profile. It may well be that the Mongolian specialists were inspired by Elon Musk’s approach to marketing, and specifically by the way that he was able to generate global interest in himself and his proposals even before actually beginning work on his Mars space flight project.

In fact, Mars-V can also be seen as a kind of national public relations project, which will also help to attract tourists to the country. Significantly, the Mongolian government has named 2023, 2024 and 2025 the Visit Mongolia Years, in which it plans to attract unprecedented numbers of tourists to the country and develop its tourism infrastructure.

As we have seen, in 2023 Mongolia is making a determined effort to jump start its space sector and contribute to the international quest to explore this final frontier. Mongolia’s likely success in this endeavor may well convince other small nations to participate in ambitious space projects, which are now almost entirely the preserve of the world’s most technologically and economically developed countries.


Boris Kushkhov, the Department for Korea and Mongolia at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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