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Know why Pakistan’s Space Agency SUPARCO is decades behind India's ISRO

Know why Pakistan’s Space Agency SUPARCO is decades behind India's ISRO

Although, no comparison on any aspect between India & Pakistan is justifiable because the former is a budding superpower while the latter is a disintegrating state motivated by religious fanaticism & hatred, one comparison should definitely be undertaken – a comparison between the space agencies of the two nations because Pakistan’s agency was established 8 years before the ISRO.

A History of SUPARCO

In 1961, Pakistan started its space agency called the Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). Renowned Pakistani physicist & Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Abdus Salam tried to convince President Ayub Khan to set-up a national space agency.

In September 1961, Dr. Salam set up SUPARCO whose headquarter was in Karachi. Four top scientists from SUPARCO even went to NASA to study space technology; all this at a time when India hadn’t even established its space agency.

In 1960, John F Kennedy announced that he wanted to send an American to moon & bring him back before the decade ended. For this, NASA needed to map the wind conditions in the upper atmospheric region above the Indian Ocean. To enable this, NASA asked for Pakistan’s help as it was a reputed space agency in the region.

Pakistani scientists Dr. Abdus Salam & Dr. Tariq Mustafa met with NASA officials in Washington to discuss the matter. So, NASA offered help to Pakistan in the development & launching of rockets to map the atmosphere with the condition that any data acquired would be shared with NASA.

And so, Pakistan launched its first rocket, Rehbar-I, with NASA’s help & became the first nation in South Asia to do so, third in Asia after Japan & Israel, & tenth in the world. Not to forget, that it was still 7 years till India established the ISRO!

But SUPARCO began falling behind in the 1970’s itself, & the only high point for the agency of the decade was when Apollo 17 astronauts visited Pakistan. Pakistan would only launch its first satellite Badr I in 1990, that too with Chinese assistance.

Reasons for a Disintegrating SUPARCO

a) Pakistan began shifting funds from the space agency to atomic bomb projects, & other key resources & scientists away from SUPARCO. It reduced its education funding which even today is the lowest in South Asia & has affected the agency heavily.

b) The real fall came in the 80’s & 90’s, when President Zia-ul-Haq cut off funding to major SUPARCO projects including the flagship satellite communication launch.

c) As has always been the case, Pakistan began focusing only on countering India. And hence, military generals replaced the top posts in the organisation replacing scientists. Even today, the current chairman is Qaiser Anees Khurrum who is a military general.

d) Then, the government of Pakistan disowned Dr. Salam for being Ahmadiyya as Ahmadiyya Muslims don’t believe that Prophet Mohammed was the final prophet. Government assistance to him was stopped & he was ostracized. This meant Pakistan had to be dependent on foreign technology.

e) It has suffered some embarrassments as well. It has had to give up orbital slots because it couldn’t launch in time.

f) SUPARCO has lost its indigenous ability. Its first satellite was leased from the US, & the latest Paksat-1R, launched in 2011, was funded, designed, built & launched by China while only a few components were built in Pakistan. The Paksat-1R is Pakistan’s only fully functional satellite.

In 1969 ISRO was established, & it began with even less expertise than SUPARCO. In the early 70’s ISRO began preparing for its first satellite Aryabhatta-I to be launched in 1975.

ISRO on the other hand launched a communication satellite, began technology sharing programs with other nations, & unveiled a remote sensing satellite system that is the largest in the world. It attracts talent, is run autonomously & have top scientists at the helm.

ISRO recently created a record of launching 104 satellites in one go, in contrast SUPARCO isn’t believed to have indigenous satellite producing & launching technology for another two decades! Pakistan has set itself a target of 2040 to achieve the same.

By then, ISRO plans to reach Venus & maybe even revisit Mars. ISRO is slowly becoming a hub for launching international satellites. It sent a lunar unmanned probe, Chandrayaan I, & Mars mission Mangalyaan. It is also planning to launch its solar mission, Aditya L1.

Hence, despite the head start of SUPARCO, ISRO is decades ahead of its rival.

Posted On : 26-Jun-2017

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