Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission

The Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission,[a] commonly referred to as SUPARCO, is the independent agency of the Government of Pakistan responsible for the national civilian space program.[2]

Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission
خلائی و بالائے فضائی تحقیقاتی مأموریہ
SUPARCO Rear-headquarters in Karachi, Sindh
Agency overview
Formed16 September 1961; 62 years ago (1961-09-16)
TypeSpace agency
JurisdictionGovernment of Pakistan
HeadquartersIslamabad-45900, Pakistan
Mohammad Yusuf Khan
OwnerGovernment of Pakistan
Annual budgetIncrease Rs. 7.3951 billion (US$25.61 million)[1]

Established in 1961 with an objective to learn the art of rocketry and high altitude research from the United States, the agency worked to develop the capacity for a national satellite program, eventually launching Pakistan's first satellite from China in 1990.[3][4][5][6] The agency was also an early participant and competitor in rocket development program sponsored by the Ministry of Defence of Pakistan.[5]

The agency leads the national satellite program and maintains an orbital operation of its satellites with support facilities throughout the country.[7][8] The agency has sustained significant criticism within Pakistan for failing to compete with its Indian and Chinese counterparts in terms of capabilities— both of which countries have satellite launch capabilities– in spite of being established earlier than its competitors.[9][10][11]

History edit

Creation edit

The past federal ministries of Pakistan initially avoided to fund the space program and engineering education in spite of opportunity available from the United States.: 235 [12] The Punjab University was the only university that was undertaking the research in aeronautics in 1957; only after when the former Soviet Union launched its first satellite in space, the Sputnik 1.[13]

It was during the development of Apollo program in 1961 when Abdus Salam found an opportunity for Pakistan to start its space program with the foreign funding coming from the United States.[14] The American NASA was embarking the Apollo program in a competition with Soviet space program had realize the need of scientific data in upper atmosphere and therefore, invited India and Pakistan (bordering nations of the Indian Ocean) to join the studies and experimentations.[14] Initially, the engineers from Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) were directed at the Wallops Flight Facility to learn the rocketry from the United States as Abdus Salam worked on approving to establishing a commission from Ayub administration.[14]

A commission to study the upper atmosphere and rocketry was established under Abdus Salam and Ishrat Usmani as its chairman with nuclear engineers from PAEC, Tariq Mustafa and Salim Mehmud, becoming its first members in 1961 through the "Space Sciences Research Wing" of PAEC.[15] The Commission was first in the Muslim world to start studies in establishing the space program, and was named as "Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission" to represent its purpose and mission on 16 September 1961.: 237 [12]

Early studies edit

The Commission working under Abdus Salam was tasked with learning the rocket engineering, and contribution from France and the United States helped start this mission.: 238 [12] Foundation of the agency made Pakistan the first South Asian country to start a space program.[16][17] Furthermore, a Flight Test Range was established in Sonmiani which is 50 km (31 mi) west of Karachi, from where a program of sounding rocket launches was conducted based on the Nike-Ajax rockets followed by the Judi-Dart program[14]

On 7 July 1962, the Commission launched the first rocket, known as "Rehbar-I", which reached the altitude of 80 mi (420,000 ft) in space..[14][18] The United States publicly supported and hailed the program as the beginning of "a program of continuous cooperation in space research of mutual interest."[19] Until 1972, the United States provided training on rocket engines at the Goddard Space Flight Center.[19] The ground stations for satellite navigation were set-up by the Commission in Karachi and Lahore in 1973, and were visited by the Apollo 17 astronauts.[11] In 1973, the Islamabad Ionospheric Station was established at the Quaid-e-Azam University and Landsat ground station was established near Lahore.[11]

Funding and support edit

After 1972, the Commission lost its sight with the United States ceasing its fund to support any missions to study upper atmosphere.[11] After the war with India in 1971, the space program became secondary in military funding to the nuclear weapons program.[11] The Commission, which had employed engineers with background in nuclear engineering, had to be transfer to Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to support the nuclear program.[11] Furthermore, the Pakistan Air Force's military support and funding to the Rehbar program also ended any efforts for space program.[11]

After India launched its first satellite from Russia in 1975, the Commission began to lobby to work on nation's first satellite in a view of catching India in space in 1979. In 1981, Commission was re-organized with a purpose of emphasizing and elevated its role as an independent federal agency of the government of Pakistan.[20] The executive committee was formed with the efforts from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission that oversaw the funding of nation's satellite program known as "PakSat".[21][14] Support from the Pakistan Radio Society (PRS) and University of Surrey of England made it possible for the agency to start working satellite program– owning major contributions to United Kingdom that allowed Pakistani scientists to study satellite engineering while participating in building the UoSAT-1 and UO-11, which was launched in 1984.[22][23]

Funding of the communication satellite was purely military rather than space exploration and it was being designed to stage a "cultural counter-attack" on India with the influx of new Pakistani media channels.[11] A 10 m (33 ft) ground station was expanded in Lahore to support satellite operations in 1983.[11] In 1983, the agency started to construct nation's first satellite, which was called Badr-1 (lit. Moon).[24] In 1986, Pakistan negotiated with the United States to launch the satellite but it was eventually China that helped Pakistan launched its first satellite in 1990.[25]

Internal competition and slot crises edit

Pakistan Mission Control Center (PMCC) controls one of many LEOSAR satellites (as illustrated above) with close coordination with Russia, France, and member of the International Cospas-Sarsat Programme.

In 1987, the agency received military's support when the existence of India's missile program was revealed.: 235 [12] Responding to India's program, the missile program known as Hatf program (lit. Target) was launched with Army GHQ wanting the agency to lead the program.: 236 [12] Other than the Hatf-I project with Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), only the Abdali program with DESTO was completed by the Commission.: 236 [12] The missile program was then delegated to national defense laboratories of the Ministry of Defence who proved to be more capable than the agency itself in feasibility of rocket engines and controls system.: 236 [12]

Due to its lack of interests in controls and engineering education on aerodynamics, the agency was limited to two projects as part of the Hatf program, and lost its credibility to KRL and DESTO.[26]: 236 [12][27] As early as in 1995, the agency lost its major contract to private rocket engineering firm, the National Development Complex to design and develop the country's first space booster, Shaheen-I.[27] The Shaheen program was built in close coordination with the Pakistan Air Force which oversaw its engine and launch pad development at the Sonmiani Flight Test Range[28]

The agency maintained its ties with the United Kingdom and started to build another satellite project, Badr-B, which was completed with interaction between DESTO and the British Rutherford Laboratory in 1994.[22] Due to orbital crises and lack of funding, the satellite was not launched until in 2001 by Russia from Baikonur.[22] Although the satellite was operated successfully, the agency lost its control within two years despite the design life of five years with no investigations that were conducted.[11] Between 1993–94, the agency received negative publicity when it lost two orbital slots and was in risk of losing its priority slot if it did not launch its own satellite in 2003.[11] In an view of securing the orbital slot, the agency entered in negotiation with the American firm, the Hughes Satellite Systems, to acquire its first geo-stationary satellite which was originally designed for Indonesia, and renamed the satellite as Paksat-1.[11]

Foreign aid and cooperation edit

In spite of the agency was brought under the National Command Authority with Strategic Plans Division (SPD) becoming its program manager in order to focus on "real development" in 2000,[29] the Chinese cooperation and support to the agency remains vital to pursue the nation's space program.[30] Despite the funding was made possible to construct the first geostationary satellite, the Paksat-1R, in 2004, it was the crucial Chinese cooperation in 2007 that made the project possible to be launched in 2011.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37] Despite initiatives to make the agency more independent in 2012, it was reported that efforts were wasted and work suffered from failure due to lack of government interests in space program.[29]

Because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the agency received support from the Chinese government with two satellites, PakTES-1A and PRSS-1, were launched by China in 2018..[38] The PRSS-1 is Pakistan's first electro-optical satellite that is designed and built by the China Academy of Space Technology with agency controlling the satellites from satellite centers in Lahore and Karachi.[39] While the PakTES-1A is an experimental satellite that is solely built by the SUPARCO.[38][40]

Besides Chinese contribution, Russia also helped Pakistan to establish a Mission Control Center in Karachi in 2009 to support their International Cospas-Sarsat Programme, which later receive more support from Russia in 2012.[41][42]

In 2019, the agency reached out to United Arab Emirates Space Agency to take part in the Global Space Congress for the first time held at Abu Dhabi, where they held an exhibition on their satellite-related projects.[43]

Facilities edit

The Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission is headquartered in Islamabad and maintains a satellite ground control station in Karachi.[44] The agency maintains a satellite manufacturing center in Lahore and technical support facility in Peshawar and Quetta.[2]

Main projects edit

Rocket engines edit

Since 1961, the Commission supported and led the early studies on solid-propellant rocket, which it succeeded in developing the Rehbar-I.[45] The Rehbar-I rocket was a derivative based on the U.S. Nike-Cajun, and continued its service until 1972.[2] Despite leading the investigations on solid-fuel propellants, the Hatf Program only funded two projects to Commission, which were completed with national defense laboratories.[19]

In 1987, the military funded the Commission's design study on rocket engines for Hatf-I, which was completed with the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), the national defense laboratory of the Ministry of Defense.[19] In 1995, the Commission designed the rocket engine for the Abdali project, which was completed by the MoD's agency DESTO in 2004.[19]

Since 2000, the Commission receives military funding from the Pakistan Army to design and develop rocket engines for the A-100 and A-200 weapon system.[46] The Commission also conducted studies on rocket engines for the Shaheen program, only to lose contract to private rocket engineering firm who made the Shaheen program feasible based on their design.[47]

PakSAT program edit

The PakSAT program is a national satellite program of Commission that was conceived in 1979–80.: 21–22 [48] The program is envisioned to consist of two geostationary communication satellites– one operating in orbit and other at in-orbit spare to be stationed at 38°E and 41°E, respectively.: 24 [48]

The PakSAT program is designed to develop the television receive-only (TVRO) terminals for the receptions of news, entertainment, and educational channels from direct broadcasting satellite dishes.[49] The official space policy is intend for civilian purposes only with focusing to develop the communication satellites for internet access and remote sensing satellites to address the climatic changes in the country.[50][51][52]

Despite the India's achievement in orbital sciences, the space exploration second to the missile program that remains to be prioritized due to national security issues.[53] Under the PakSAT program only two communication and two earth observation satellites are built by China as Commission's contractor.[54][55]

PakSAT Program[56]
Satellite Mass and weight Satellite by type Launch agency Launch site Launch date Remarks and notes
Badr-1 52 kg (115 lb) LEO/COM CASC Xichang in China 16 July 1990 (1990-07-16) Built in coordinate with University of Surrey
Paksat-1E 3,000 kg (6,600 lb) GEO Hughes Cape Canaveral in United States 1 February 1996 (1996-02-01) Built and owned by the Boeing.
Badr-B 68.5 kg (151 lb) EO Roscosmos Baikonur in Kazakhstan 12 December 2001 (2001-12-12) Built in coordination with Rutherford Laboratory.
Paksat-1R 5,515 kg (12,158 lb) GEO CACS Xichang 11 August 2011 (2011-08-11) Built and manufactured by China with Chinese funding
iCube-1 1 kg (2.2 lb) LEO IST Dombarovsky in Russia 13 November 2013 (2013-11-13) Built and manufactured by Pakistan
Paksat-MM1 4,137 kg (9,121 lb) GEO Hughes Cape Canaveral 5 March 2018 (2018-03-05) Built and manufactured by Boeing
Pak-TES 300 kg (660 lb) LEO CNSA Jiuquan 9 July 2018 (2018-07-09) Built and manufactured by SUPARCO
PRSS-1 300 kg (660 lb) LEO CNSA Jiuquan 9 July 2018 (2018-07-09) Jointly built and manufactured by China and Pakistan
Paksat-1MMR TBA GEO CNSA TBA Launch expected in 2024 Built and manufactured by China with Chinese funding

Planetary sciences and scientific missions edit

Every year, SUPARCO sponsors and organizes the World Space Week (WSW) to promote the understanding of the Earth science all over the country.[57] SUPARCO works with a number of universities and research institutions to engage in research in observational astronomy and astrophysics.[58] The Institute of Space and Planetary Astrophysics (ISPA) of the Karachi University conducts key research and co-sponsors with international level research programs in astrophysics, with joint ventures of SUPARCO.[59]

SUPARCO continuous development of the space program, with particular focus on indigenous, self-reliance and introduction of the state-of-the-art technologies, SUPARCO also offers its services to the private sector consortium to satisfy the industrial and environmental needs and to support economic competitiveness.[60]

SUPARCO operates a national balloon launching facility in Karachi to conduct studies in atmospheric sciences to determine the vertical profile of ozone up to 30–35 km.[61] This balloon sounding facility has been extensively used for carrying out research in better understanding of the meteorology and how the ozone layer vary seasonally in the stratosphere and troposphere.[61] The Ionospheric Station at Karachi operates a Lonosonde observation facility, and recently the balloon flight mission was carried out by the station on 16 January 2004, up to an altitude of about 36 km to measure the vertical profile of the O3 trends.[61] The maximum O3 observed 12.65 mPa at 27 km.[61] One of the most notable mission of SUPARCO is its Lunar program that conducts observational studies on the activity of Lunar phases and distributes its publications within the public domain.[62]

Research facilities edit

Facility Location Description
Institute of Space Technology Islamabad a research and development facility. The IST was established and founded by the government of United Kingdom. Institute of Space Technology offers degree programs in Aerospace Engineering, Communication systems engineering, Material Engineering, Space Sciences and Mechanical Engineering.
SUPARCO Institute of Technical Training (SITT) Karachi a teaching and technical training facility. SUPARCO Institute of Technical Training (SITT) offers diploma programs in Mechanical and Electronics Technology.
Institute of Space and Planetary Astrophysics (ISPA) Karachi University ISPA is the nations leading and one of the oldest astronomical facility that was built and constructed by the United States. The ISPA is responsible for space and planetary science research.[58] A number of foreign scientists have used and research the ISPA facility where they published numerous articles in the field of space sciences.[63] The ISPA has also a powerful telescope and astronomical observatory which was last provided by the United States Government in the late 1950s.[58]
Department of Space Science University of Punjab The facility carries out a wide variety of research programs in the field of solar physics, plasma physics, astrophysics, remote sensing and planetary sciences.[58] The Department of Space Science has a small astronomical observatory. It is the oldest astronomical observatory in the country and has remained a center of learning for more than 75 years.

Functions edit

Revitalisation and research program of SUPARCO edit

In 2005, then-President Pervez Musharraf outlined his vision for SUPARCO by laying down a clearly defined agenda for the national space agency to pursue and deliver in minimum time. Musharraf had made it clear that:

"Pakistan would need to catch up to the world space leaders and make up for lost time and neglect in the past and future"[36]

In his book, In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, Musharraf has expressed his desire that "SUPARCO has suffered severe economic and global sanctions but in future Pakistan will send its satellites from its soil". Revitalization, restructuring, reorientation and modernization of SUPARCO are the main objectives outlined by President Musharraf. SUPARCO is to be brought at par with other strategic organizations around the world. Specific objectives include research and development of communication satellites, remote sensing satellites and satellite launch vehicles, with the objective of bringing rapid growth and socio-economic development in the fields of education, astronomy, cosmology, exobiology, stellar science, planetary science, planets, extrasolar planet, dwarf planets, comets, asteroids, astrophysics, astrobiology, astrochemistry, aerospace engineering, rocket propellent engineering, information technology, communications, agriculture sector, mineral excavation and atmospheric sciences.[64][65]

  • Development of state policy concepts in the sphere of research and peaceful uses of space, as well as in the interests of national security
  • Organization and development of space activities in Pakistan and under its jurisdiction abroad
  • Contributing to state national security and defence capability
  • Organization and development of Pakistan's cooperation with other states and international space organizations

Astronomy and astrophysics program edit

The Astronomy and Astrophysics program (or SUPARCO Astrophysics program), is an active scientific mission of the Space Research Commission (SUPARCO), dedicated for the development of space science.[66] The program's mainstream objective and aim is to conduct research studies for the advancement and better understanding of the theoretical physics, astronomy, astrophysics, and mathematics involving the three-dimensional universal space and time.[66]

Launched and established in January 2012, the program takes scientific and research studies pertaining to quantum mechanics, deep space objects, dark matter and energy, supernova, nebulae and galaxies mentioned in the Big bang theory. Under its new[when?] designated official space policy which was approved by the Prime minister of Pakistan Yousaf Raza Gillani, the programs inter-alia cohesively included the augmentation and strengthening of the understanding of physics and mathematics in the country, as part of the scientific mission of Suparco.[66]

The program is promoted in the public circles through an academic bulletin which was launched on 2 January 2012 by Suparco.[67] The program is intended to provide initial and better understanding of space and astronomy and to create awareness among professionals, amateur astronomers, educators, students and public at large about the progress made in this field through technological innovations.[67] The program was launched with the Space program 2040 (an official space policy of Government of Pakistan) after being approved by the Prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani to enhance the separate astronomy and astrophysics programmes of SUPARCO, under one programme. This program is mainly focused on theoretical and observational research while collaborating with major space agencies in the world.[68] The genesis of this program traced back to 2009 after Suparco publicly celebrated the International Year of Astronomy which was widely appreciated by the public.[69] Since then, Suparco managed and helds the World Space Week events and functions all over the country to educate the public circles in the notable areas of interest of astrophysics.[70]

Currently, Suparco is planning to established its own version astronomical observatory, apart from the control of the universities and institutions, to conduct furthermore theoretical research in astrophysics and mathematics.[68] On monthly basis, Suparco through its bulletin covers the research events and book reviews as well as work being carried out at SUPARCO under this program.[67][71]

In January 2012, the program was launched its publishing its first publication in its bulletin.[66] The first publication under this program included the research on upper atmosphere, software development relating the space technology, Lunar theory, Lunar eclipse Quadrantids and the asteroids.[66] Since its establishment, a total of nine important publications has been released under the auspicious of this program with the last volume was issued in September 2012.[72]

Other specific programs and missions edit

[dubious ]

  • Scientific space research
  • Remote sensing of Earth
  • Satellite telecommunication systems
  • Geographic Information System
  • Natural Resource Surveying
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Acquisition of data for atmospheric/meteorological studies
  • Development of the ground-based infrastructure for navigation and special information system
  • Space activities in the interests of national security and defence
  • Development of research, test and production base of the space sector

Chairmen of SUPARCO edit

Number Name Term Started Term Ended Alma Mater Field(s) Educational Background
0 Dr Abdus Salam 1961 1967 Imperial College, London

University of the Punjab, Lahore

Theoretical Physics Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
1 Dr Ishrat Usmani Co- Chairman 1961 1967 Imperial College, London ICS PhD
2 Air Cdre. Turowicz 1967 1969 Warsaw University Aeronautical Engineering Graduate
3 Air Commodore K. M. Ahmad 1969 1973 Pakistan Air Force Academy Aeronautical Engineering Graduate
4 Salim Mehmud 1980 1989 Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Nuclear Engineering, Electrical engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Electronics engineering Masters
5 Dr M. Shafi Ahmad 1989 1990 University of London Astronomy PhD
6 Engr. Sikandar Zaman 1990 1997 University of Michigan Mechanical / Aeronautical Engineering Masters
7 Dr Abdul Majid 1997 2001 University of Wales Astrophysics PhD
8 Major General Raza Hussain 2001 2010 Pakistan Army Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Electrical Engineering BS
9 Major General Ahmed Bilal 2010 2016 Pakistan Army Corps of Signals Engineering Computer Engineering Master of Science (MS)
10 Major General Qaiser Anees Khurram 2016 2018 Pakistan Army Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Mechanical Engineering BS
11 Major General Amer Nadeem 2018 2023 Pakistan Army Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Aeronautical Engineering BS
12 Mohammad Yusuf Khan 2023 2025 University of the Peshawar, Peshawar Master of Science MS

International cooperation edit

People's Republic of China edit

In August 2006, People's Republic of China signed an agreement with Pakistan to conduct joint research in space technology and committed to work with Pakistan to launch three Earth-weather satellites over the next five years.[73] In May 2007, China (as a strategic partner) publicly signed an agreement with Pakistan to enhance cooperation in the areas of space science and technology. The Pakistan-China bilateral cooperation in the space industry span a broad spectrum, including climate science, clean energy technologies, atmospheric and earth sciences, and marine sciences. On the occasion of Chinese launch of PakSat-1R, Pakistan's ambassador to China expressed the natural desire of Pakistan for China to send a first officially designated Pakistan astronaut to space aboard a Chinese spacecraft.[74]

Turkey edit

In December 2006, Turkey showed interest to form a joint-venture with Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization where Pakistan is a member.[75] In 2006, Turkish minister of science, accompanied by the Turkish Ambassador to Pakistan, signed the Memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Pakistan to form a joint-venture with Pakistan in the development of satellite technology.[75] The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey and Turkish Aerospace Industries's senior ranking officials and representative signed a separate accord with the SUPARCO to enhance the cooperation in the satellite development program.[75]

United Arab Emirates edit

In March 2019, SUPARCO took part in the Global Space Congress for the first time held at Abu Dhabi, where they held an exhibition on their satellite-related projects[when?].[43]

International collaboration and MoU edit

Invited by Soviet Union, Suparco joined the COSPAS-SARSAT program in 1990, after receiving the approval of the Government of Pakistan.[76] Since 1990, Suparco has been controlling and hosting many Soviet-Russian COSPAS-SARSAT satellites.[76] The Pakistan Mission Control Center in Karachi serves as headquarter of the region to control the Cospas satellites, and over the years Suparco has emerged as lead agency to provide ground and satellite transmissions to Cospas-Sarsat program.[76] Pakistan is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO).[77] SUPARCO and the Department of Space have signed formal Memorandum of Understanding agreements with a number of foreign political entities[citation needed]:

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ Urdu: خلائی و بالائ فضائی تحقیقاتی مأموریہ

References edit

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