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Sarmad Sahim
Sarmad Sahimhttps://scientiamag.org
Sarmad Sahim Khan is an Optometrist at Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital Rawalpindi. He is a Philanthropist, social worker, and freelancer. Reading and writing are two of his favorite hobbies.

Pakistan and India, the two advanced countries of south Asia, having got their independence in 1947, always try to be at par with each other on every front, be it political, diplomatic, or military. The one field in which Pakistan has lagged behind India in space technology. Pakistan founded its space agency, the Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) in 1961, almost 8 years earlier than its Indian counterpart, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO, 1969) to promote space research and technology.[1]  But 59 years later, it has not achieved the goals that were set by its founder, the Nobel Laureate, Dr. Abdus Salam mainly due to the long list of political and bureaucratic hurdles. ISRO has already launched missions to the moon and mars, while SUPARCO has almost become redundant.

The starting years of the SUPARCO were full of hope and determination. On 7th June 1962, Pakistan launched its first unmanned rocket named ‘REHBAR-1’ from Sonmiani Terminal Launch with the help of NASA and secured its distinction as the third country in Asia and the Tenth in the world who conduct successful spaceflight. [1] According to a report of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, before the June 1962 launch, NASA had started training Pakistani scientists to enhance their skills and capabilities in the field of space.[4] In subsequent years, however, Pakistan’s space program severely lagged due to the political turmoil which enveloped the country, accompanied by some other issues due to which Pakistan’s space agency failed to take off.


Despite the first South Asian country to start a space program, it took Pakistan almost 29 years to build its first satellite named Badr-1, which was launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in 1990. Contrary, India’s first satellite, the Aryabhata, was launched by the Soviet Union on 19 April 1975 from Kapustin Yar, just after 6 years of ISRO’s foundation. Such was the unwillingness and non-serious attitude of Pakistan’s government towards space program, that it took another 11 years to launch its second satellite named Badr-2 that took its first successful flight with Meteor-3M, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, with a Ukrainian Zenit-2 rocket as its boost launcher in 2001. Although the satellite was operated successfully, SUPARCO could not sustain the control of the satellite. The satellite was lost within two years, despite its designated life of five years, yet no one knew what exactly happened to the satellite. Pakistan launched its first and only communication satellite named Paksat 1R in 2011, which was actually built and launched by China. [1]

File:Indian carrier rockets.svg
Indian carrier rockets

India’s space program is one of the fastest-growing in the world. With a successful Mars mission and various satellite launches in recent years, India is emerging as a new space power. It has become a go-to option for various countries like Germany, Japan, and France to launch their satellites. Even companies like Google use ISRO rockets to launch their satellites. On the other hand, Pakistan currently has no launch vehicles and is not capable of launching and placing a satellite in orbit on its own. ISRO is mainly involved in launching commercial satellites, those dealing with the weather, space navigation, and communications apart from various military satellites. It should be alarming for Pakistan as in case of war, these satellites can be easily exploited for tactical and strategic gains. 


SUPARCO lagged behind on all the technological advances that have made the Indian program a potent force. Since its inception, SUPARCO has faced the irony of an unstable political situation in the country aided by a lack of resources, bureaucratic hurdles, and mismanagement. Lack of funds has also been an issue from the beginning as it has halted the progress of SUPARCO as a leading space agency in South Asia. Between 1980 and 1990, the then Pakistan’s president Gen Zia-ul-Haq withdrew the funding to the space agency, and also replaced the scientists working in SUPARCO, as the prime focus was on the Nuclear Program, to counter the rising threat of India.[3]

The allocated fund for SUPARCO in Pakistan’s annual budget is only 36 Million USD as compared to India’s ISRO which has 1.9 Billion USD in the country’s annual budget.[1] In Pakistan, there are only 3 universities offering BS level programs in space sciences and only one university offering a MS program in the country as compared to India where more than 15 renowned universities offering courses in space sciences and it is one of the reasons behind their overgrown advancement in this field.

To compete with India and other developed countries of the World venturing into space industries, Pakistan needs to pay immediate  attention to its space program to achieve significant military and economic gains. Today there is little interest from the government on this issue which is clear from the allocated fund for SUPARCO and the scarce number of educational institutions offering study programs in space sciences. The entire subject of space studies is in neglect; there is no national debate or discussion in public circles about building a potent space program. Pakistan keeps lagging behind India, despite being the first to set up its space agency. The SUPARCO website is evidence of the non-serious nature of Pakistan’s space program. It contains very little information regarding Pakistan’s space policy or vision.

Badr-1 - Wikipedia
It took Pakistan almost 29 years to build its first satellite, Badr-1

What does Space Technology hold for us?

Space technology has greatly benefitted earth in many ways. From talking on cellular phones to taking action on climate change, it has changed the lifestyle of humans on earth. Historically, we have seen several discoveries in one field or another as fruits of space programs. For example, it was the US space shuttle’s fuel pump design which led to the invention of the artificial heart that has now been transplanted to more than 20 people. Dresses to keep the body temperature controlled for patients in certain diseases were inspired from astronauts’ spacesuits. That is why the US spends billions of dollars on NASA every year; not just for an obsession with space, but for technological prowess overall, which ultimately results in the development of people.[4]


SUPARCO has set all its hopes on its Space Program 2040 which includes the development of five GEO satellites and six LEO satellites to replace its existing satellites in orbit. There are no plans for development of a Launch vehicle. It entirely depends upon foreign vendors for launching satellites. The programme is entirely intended to launch more and more communication and remote sensing satellites from other countries.[1]

It is vital for Pakistan to understand and acknowledge the importance of a robust space program. Doing so, will enable Pakistan to achieve a variety of practical applications, from scientific exploration to military gains and can play a crucial role in the outcome of war. It is about time that the government reconsider its priorities. Policies and funding allocations in our federal budgets need a revision. Pakistan has produced renowned scientists over the years and they all have the potential to make a great space program for the country provided they get proper attention from the government. 


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_%26_Upper_Atmosphere_Research_Commission
  2. https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/pakistan-is-losing-the-space-race/
  3. https://eurasiantimes.com/pak-space-agency-suparco/
  4. https://www.dawn.com/news/1134488

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