Space and Defense

Space and Defense


Why did Pakistan struggle for 50 years to launch its satellites into Earth's orbit when it was Asia's third country to send sounding rockets into space? Four years ago, India launched 104 satellites from a single rocket to set a groundbreaking record, whereas Pakistan launched only six satellites with assistance in the design, built, launch, and even funding from China. Pakistan plans to send its first astronaut into space by 2022; India put its first astronaut into "space in 1984 as part of a Soviet-led mission." Despite a good head-start, why is Pakistan's space program decades behind when India's space expedition started eight years later? The literature on Pakistan's space program suggests that the country's staggering space performance is because SUPARCO (Pakistan's national space agency) was "denied the funding and resources needed to ensure a sustained rate of advancement and innovation." Some scholars argue that the commission was neglected because of "bureaucratic hurdles, and mismanagement," while others believe that "the political turmoil which enveloped the country" for decades caused inadvertent delays. However, the fundamental reason behind Pakistan's inadequate space performance in Asia's space race is the lack of technical expertise to harness indigenous space capabilities. The commission over the years relied on a handful of foreign-trained scientists and engineers, imported technology for quick fixes, and used foreign launch facilities to keep its head above water. These temporary arrangements rang the nonproliferation bells, and in 1991 SUPARCO faced"technological denial" from the West under sanctions. As a result, the satellites missed deadlines to join the designated orbital slots. This added a financial burden to the debt-trap economy of the country, and the vicious circle was hard to break for decades. After the 1998 nuclear tests and the subsequent military coup (8 October, 1999), SUPARCO among other strategic organizations came under the umbrella institution of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD). Since then, it has been operating under military officers, unlike India's ISRO, which is guided by scientists who lead the agency with task-oriented missions. To spearhead the space-race against India, SUPARCO is circumventing the natural learning curve of research and development under military leadership that observes strict hierarchy within the commission. Seniority supersedes talent, thus making the institution a less attractive career choice for young graduates. This paper address three important questions: First, what are the factors behind SUPARCO's snail's pace? Second, why does Pakistan not have a satellite launch vehicle (SLV), needed to launch satellites into Earth's orbit, when it has already mastered the ballistic missile program? Both SLV and ballistic missiles are very similar technologies. Third, what measures can improve Pakistan's space program?



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