Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission: Wikis


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Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission
ا سپا ر كو or پاکستان خلائی و بالافضائی تحقیقی ماموریہ
Established September 16th, 1961
Headquarters SUPARCO Building, University Road, Karachi, Pakistan
Primary spaceport Sonmiani Satellite Launch Center
Administrator Maj. Gen. Raza Hussain (Director)
Budget (Rs.3.12 billion(2009)[1]
Website suparco homepage

The Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) also known as the Pakistan Space Agency (Urdu:ا سپا ر كو or پاکستان خلائی و بالافضائی تحقیقی ماموریہ) is a space agency of the Pakistani government, responsible for nation's public space program. SUPARCO was established on September 16, 1961 by the order of President Muhammad Ayub Khan on the advice of its founding director, Abdus Salam.[2]



Pakistan's quest to pursue peaceful space technology began in the early 1960s. It was Dr. Abdus Salam's advice to the President of Pakistan, Field Marshall Ayub Khan, to establish a National Space Agency of Pakistan, SUPARCO. On September 16, 1961, on the advice of Dr.Abdus Salam, it was decided to set up a Committee dealing with space sciences. Consequently, a Space Sciences Research Wing of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was established through an Executive Order of the President of Pakistan, Gen. Ayub Khan which was addressed to Dr. I. H. Usmani, the Chairman of PAEC. The programme of rocket firings was entrusted to the Chairman of PAEC.[3] Dr. Abdus Salam was appointed its first Chairman. On June 7, 1961, under the leadership of Air Cdre. Władysław Józef Marian Turowicz, a two-stage rocket, Rehbar-I, was launched from the Sonmiani Satellite Launch Center. Pakistan had the honour of becoming the third country in Asia and the tenth in the world to conduct such a launching[3].

On July 25, 1964, Dr. Abdus Salam arranged a meeting with President Ayub Khan where SUPARCO was placed under the direct control of the President of Pakistan. On 8 March 1966, President Ayub Khan constituted SUPARCO as a separate organisation under the administrative control of Dr. Abdus Salam[3]. Dr. Abdus Salam, along with Dr. W. J. M. Turowicz, led a team of aerospace engineers and rocket scientists to design a Rehbar sounding Rocket series. Dr. Abdus Salam also established space centers in different cities of Pakistan, notably in Karachi and Lahore. Abdus Salam also initiated an aerospace engineering program in SUPARCO. He was one of the pioneering figures in the 1960s to lead Pakistan in the space power world. Abdus Salam knew the importance of space technology as well as the importance of nuclear technology. Abdus Salam effort was involved in the development and installation of a high-powered astronomical telescope at the Karachi University. Abdus Salam was noted for his theories and its relationship to Islam in SUPARCO, his efforts were involved in inducting applied physics and experimental physics laboratories at Karachi University. Abdus Salam also established an aerospace engineering course in the Pakistan Air Force Academy.

With the establishment of SUPARCO, Pakistan was the first South Asian country to start a space program[4]. However, the Pakistani Space Program has been frozen several times. In 1970s, under the Governments of President of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the space program was frozen for more than a decade. In 1993, both Pakistan's nuclear and space programmes were frozen for four years due to an economic depression. However, the programme was unfrozen by then-President of Pakistan General Pervaiz Musharraf and a satellite development programme was developed rapidly.

Furthermore, Suparco faced strict sanctions on the import of several materials required to launch and manufacture rockets during the early 1990’s from the United States and Russia. The delay of the Russian launch vehicle also resulted in a long delay for the launch of Pakistan’s second satellite (Badar-B). These tragedies had an immense impact on Suparco’s plan to launch and place its own satellite in orbit. Despite its talented nuclear and space scientists, Pakistan has followed a Policy of deliberate ambiguity for many decades. This is why it is still unclear what the plans and operation as well as capabilities of SUPARCO and its space facilities are.[5]


NASA-SUPARCO Cooperation

In 1961, Pakistan set up the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) with the announced goal, not yet reached, of launching Pakistani satellites aboard Pakistani rockets. In June 1962, the United States launched the first rocket from Pakistani soil. The launch used a combination of two U.S. rocket motors the Nike-Cajun. Fired from Sonmiani Beach, 50 kilometers west of Karachi, the rocket reached an altitude of almost 130 kilometers. The U.S. space agency NASA hailed the launch as the beginning of "a program of continuing cooperation in space research of mutual interest[6]."

The NASA-SUPARCO cooperation agreement called for the training of Pakistani scientists and technicians at NASA space science centers. Before the June 1962 launch, NASA had begun to train Pakistani scientists at Wallops Island and the Goddard Space Flight Centers. NASA also set up fellowships and research associate programs at American universities for "advanced training and experience."

In 1981, SUPARCO also planned a astronautic programme with the coorperation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). An agreement between SUPARCO and NASA was to send Pakistan's first astronaut into the space.[citation needed] However, after the Space Shuttle Challenger incident, the program was put on hold. Later, the program was cancelled in 1990[6].

Launch Vehicle Fleet

Rehbar Sounding Rocket Project.

Status: Decommissioned
A Pakistani Rehbar Nike-Cajun in launch position in the 1961.

On June 7, 1962 at 19:53 hours (PST) Rehbar-I was successfully launched from Sonmiani Satellite Launch Center. It soared to about 130 km into the atmosphere, making Pakistan the third country in Asia and the 10th in the world to conduct such a launch. Rehbar-II was also successfully launched from Sonmiani on June 9, 1962. The data received from Rehbar-I and Rehbar-II gave scientists information on wind shear and structure of layers of the upper atmosphere extending beyond the stratosphere. The data collected also helped in the study of cloud formation, cyclones and weather over the Arabian Sea and the coastal areas of Pakistan. Similar tests were done in the years after.[7] The successful launch carried a payload of 80 pounds of sodium and it streaked up about 130 km into the atmosphere. SUPARCO tested its rehbar rocket series for more than a decade. The Program was decommissioned on April 8, 1972.

Haft Ballistic Missile Project

Status: Active

Despite of Space program, SUPARCO also initiated in the Pakistan's nuclear and missile development program. In the early 1980s to late 1980s, the scientists of SUPARCO had closely collaborated with KRL scientists in developing of Hatf Missiles series. The program was developed secretly and was finally revealed in 1989. In January 1989 a successful launch of an "indigenous multistage rocket into deep space" was said to have reached an altitude of more than 480 km. Pakistan would like to build satellite launchers and longer-range missiles, but it is unclear how far it has progressed[8]. In 1981, the head of SUPARCO announced plans to test a launcher by 1986, and the Pakistani press reported in early 1989 that a multi-stage rocket had successfully launched a 150-kilogram payload over 600 kilometers into "deep space.[6]"

The Hatf program was developed in secrecy. After the United States Government learned about Pakistan's Military purpose Space Program, The President of United States, George H. W. Bush quickly imposed economic and global sanctions on SUPARCO. However, the CIA also reported that the an upgrade version of Hatf-IV is developed and is believed to be in service of Pakistan's Military Space Division. The Government of Pakistan denied the report; the Government of Pakistan quickly moblized its space facilities as well as its nuclear installations in 1996.

Recently, Suparco has already tested two high-altitude hypersonic sounding rockets; Shahpar and Rakhnum. Shahpar is a 7 meter solid-fuel rocket two stage rocket that can carry a payload of 55-70 kilograms to an altitude of 950 kilometers. And Rakhnum, which is a 3 stage liquid-fuel rocket can lift a payload of 38-56 kilograms to an altitude of 1000 kilometers. Shahpar and Rakhnum has crossed the Mach Number of 5.0. Both of rockets have achieved Mach 6.1. According to the SUPARCO, the hypersonic rockets are not program of Pakistani nuclear program instead the hypersonic rockets are part of Pakistani civilian space program.

Shaheen-III Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV)

Status: Unknown

Pakistan began to concentrate to developed its first SLV in 1998. On March 2001, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan announced that Pakistani scientists were in the process of building the country's first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) and that the project had been assigned to SUPARCO, which also built the Badr satellites[9].

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan also cited the fact that India had made rapid advances in launch technology and satellite manufacture as another motivation for developing an indigenous launch capabilities[10]. Dr. Abdul Majid, then-chairman of SUPARCO, confirmed dr. Khan's statement and said " Pakistan envision a low-cost SLV and Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle(PSLV) inroder to launch light-weight satellite into low-earth orbits. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan also added that" Pakistan has very robust IRBMs which can launch geostationary orbiting satellites. All Pakistan has to do is to erase Delhi or Kolkota from the target and point it towards the sky. Instead of Hydrogen bombs and Atomic bombs the missiles can easily carry a payload of a satellite"[9].

In March 2005, President General Musharraf authorized renewed research and development on an indigenous launch capability, which would be able to orbit a planned domestically built satellite, the PAKSAT-IR. During the IDEAS 2002 defense exhibition Pakdef spotted two similar models of Pakistani Satellite Launch Vehicles[10].

The first model points out a possible three stage of Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). Judging from other similar SLV's, it is estimated that it can place a payload weighing around 80-100 kilogram to an orbit 450-490 kilometers above Earth's surface. However the exact data remains unknown. The second model of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) seems similar to the first model however, with four extra boosters. Many nations with SLV technology developed boosters based on their missile technology. Therefore it is fair to assume that the boosters on the second model might also be based on one of Pakistan's ballistic missiles[11].

Iran and Pakistan are racing towards space[10]. On January 2004 Iranian authorities reported that their indigenous SLV will soon place a satellite in orbit. While Pakistan, on the other hand, plans to launch an SLV within the next five years[10]. The exact nature of Pakistan’s SLV program remains unknown. However, judging from Pakistan’s ballistic missile technology, it can be said that Pakistan Government and Suparco might just be waiting for the right moment to test Pakistan’s first satellite launch vehicle[10].

On August, 2006, after Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's official visit to People's Republic of China, Prime Minister Aziz called a meeting of SUPARCO's scientists and engineers, where Prime Minister was briefed by SUPARCO's scientist on the status of the both SLV and PSLV programmes. However, the status of SLV and PSLV are remained unclear[10].

Communication satellites

Pakistan's first satellite, Badr-1, was launched by the Chinese in 1990. At presents, Pakistan controls 2 satellites in the space.

Badr-1 Digital Communication Satellite

Status: Decommissioned
Badr-1 digital communication satellite, Pakistan's domestically built satellite.

SUPARCO started its first digital communication satellite in 1986[12]. According to the plan, the satellite was launch from the Pakistani Satellite launch Centers, notebaly Sonmiani Satellite Launch Center.[citation needed] But the programme was changed due to political and economic reasons. The Government of Pakistan held talks with United States but the U.S Government did not show any motives in Pakistan's space Program. Instead China offers Pakistan to launch its satellite from its soil. The satellite was shipped to People's Republic of China. Pakistan launched its Badr-1, Pakistan's first indigenously developed Digital Communications Experimental satellite, was launched in 1990 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, People's Republic of China aboard a Long March 2E. The satellite successfully completed its designed life. The launch of satellite was the key success to SUPARCO. After badr-1, SUPARCO continued to developed its badr-B satellite after the successfully developed satellite.

PAKSAT-1 Telecommunication Satellite

Status: Active

Pakistan's Paksat-1 was originally known as Palapa. It was launched by Hughes Space and Communications Company for Indonesia. Later Indonesia declared the satellite unusable after an electric power anomaly. The insurance claims were paid and the title was transferred to Hughes Space and Communications Company.[13]. HGS-3 was then acquired by Pakistan from M/s Hughes Global Services on "Full Time Leasing " and relocated to Pakistan's reserved slot at 38 Degree. After a series of orbital maneuvers, the Satellite was stabilized at the final location on December 20, 2002 with 0-degree inclination. The satellite is in position at the Pakistani-licensed orbital location, 38° east longitude. Paksat 1 is operational and is ready to offer services. The PAKSAT Satellite will be decommissioned from its services in the late of 2012.

PAKSAT-1R Communication Satellite Project

Status: Underdeveloped

By the end of 2011, Pakistan plans to replace PAKSAT-1 with a new PAKSAT-1R, which will be manufactured and launched by China. The satellite will support all conventional and modern Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) applications. The satellite will have a total of up to 30 transponders: 18 in Ku-band and 12 in C-band. To ensure high degree of reliability / availability of the system, two (02) fully redundant Satellite Ground Control Stations (SGCS) would be established in Karachi and Lahore, one to act as the Main and the other as Backup respectively.[14][15].

Earth Observational Satellite

Badr-B (Earth Observational Satellite)

Status: Active

In 1992, SUPARCO was given ordered to developed its first Low-Earth observation satellite. The project manager was dr. Abdul Majid (physicist). According to the program, the satellite was to launch on June 1996. However, when SUPARCO faced severe global sanctions, the program was put on hold. SUPARCO, however, secretly continued to develop its satellite. The project was completed in 1996. The satellite was planned to launch from the Sonmiani Satellite Launch Center. But it was postponded. On December 10, 2001 at 17:19 hours UT, Pakistan launched its second satellite, Badr-B, an Earth observation satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Zenit-2 rocket, Russia. According to the Government of Pakistan, SUPARCO has upgraded the Badr-B Low Earth Observational Satellite. According to the Interior Ministry of Pakistan, the Satellite is being using to monitored Pakistan's western border[16][17].

Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite System (PRSSS)

Status: Development

After successful launching and operation of BADR series of experimental Low Earth Observational satellites (BADR-1 and BADR-B) in the 1990s and early 2000s, SUPARCO now plans to launch high resolution Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSSS) to meet the national and international user requirements in the field of satellite imagery[18].

A feasibility and system definition study was concluded in January 2007 which recommended the launch of a constellation of Optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). Satellites to ensure that the domestic and international user requirements are competitively met. In this respect the RFP for RSSS consultancy services was launched in July 2007. Launch of RFP for the manufacturing of the satellite is planned in the third quarter of year 2008.[18]

PRSS is planned to be a progressive and sustainable program. Initially, SUPARCO plans to launch an optical satellite with payload of 2.5 meter PAN in 700 km sun-synchronous orbit by the end of year 2011, which will be followed by a series of optical and SAR satellites in future. Necessary infrastructure for ground control and image reception and processing is also planned to be setup[18]. The satellite is underdevelopment process and it is being developed by SUPARCO. However, it is unclear whether the satellite will launch from Pakistan's Satellite launchers or Chinese Satellite Launchers.

Human Spaceflight Program

Status: Unknown[citation needed]

In 1981, the United States Government agreed to send Pakistan's first astronaut into space and astronaur selection began. At first, SUPARCO decided to send its first astronaut in space would be a Pakistan Air Force general. SUPARCO and NASA also made sure that the astronaut would have strong experiential background in science and mathematics while serving in the Pakistan Air Force. However, in 1986, after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the program was put on hold. The program was cancelled in 1990[6] because of strict sanctions on Pakistan.[citation needed]

After the 9/11 attacks and Pakistan's role on war on terror, the United States Government lifted an embrago on SUPARCO, allowing SUPARCO to buy and manucfactured the space-related components. Namira Salim, a Paris-based Pakistani artist bought a ride to go into space in the Virgin Galactic Space Ship in 2008.[19][20] Salim visited Pakistan where she met with Tariq Azeem, then-Minister of Science and Technology. The minister said “we have a daughter of our country who will take our flag into the space[19].”

According to the Media sources, China showed interest in Pakistan's motivation in the human spaceflight programme and offered Pakistan to send its first astronauts from Chinese spaceflight aircrafts[21].

Planetary Sciences and Astronomy

A number of institutions in Pakistan are engaged in educational/observational astronomy[22]. Karachi University's Institute of Space and Planetary Astrophysics has one and powerful telescope/Astronomical observatory which is used by SUPARCO. SUPARCO's Institute of Space technology has also one Astronomical observatory which was build and constructed by the United Kingdom.

Research facilities

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 and Material Science and Engineering
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 plantary science research[22]. A number of foreign scientists have used and research the ISPA facility where they published numerous articles in the field of space sciences.[23] The ISPA has also a powerful telescope and astronomical observatory which was last provided by the United States Government in late 1950s[22].
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[22]. The Department of Space Science has a small space observatory. It is an oldest space observatory in the country and has remained a centre of learning for more than 75 years.


Revitalization and Research Program of SUPARCO

In 2005, President 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"[citation needed]


In his [Mushrraf] book, In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, Musharraf has expressed his desired 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.[24][25]

  • 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 defense capability
  • Organization and development of Pakistan's cooperation with other states and international space organizations

Specific programs and missions

  • 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 defense
  • Development of research, test and production base of the space sector

Administrators of SUPARCO

Numbers Name Timeline of Directors Alma Mater Field Educational Background
1 Abdus Salam 1961-1967 Imperial College, United Kingdom Theoretical Physics Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)
2 Air Cdre. Gen. Władysław Turowicz 1967-1970 Warsaw University of Technology, Poland Aeronautical Engineering Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)
3 Air Cdre. K. M. Ahmad 1970-1976 Pakistan Air Force Academy, Pakistan Flight Instructor Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI)
4 Dr. Salim Mehmud 1980-1989 Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, United States of America Nuclear Engineering Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)
5 M. Shafi Ahmad 1989-1990 University of London, United Kingdom Astronomy Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)
6 Mr. Sikandar Zaman 1990-1997 University of Leeds, United Kingdom Mechanical Engineering Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
7 Abdul Majid (Physicist) 1997-2001 University of Wales, United Kingdom Astrophysics Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)
8 Maj. Gen. Raza Hussain 2001-Present Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers Electrical Engineering Bachelor of Science (B.Eng.)

International Cooperation


In August 2006, China committed to work with Pakistan to launch three Earth-resource satellites over the next five years.[26] In May 2007, China (as a strategic partner) agreed and signed an accord with Pakistan to enhance cooperation in the areas of space science and technology. Pakistan-China bilateral cooperation in the space industry could span a broad spectrum, including climate science, clean energy technologies, atmospheric and earth sciences, and marine sciences.


In December 2006, Turkey has showned interests to join Pakistan's space program.[citation needed] Turkish Ambassador to Pakistan signed the Memorandum of understanding (MOU). Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey and Turkish Aerospace Industries's representative signed an accord with SUPARCO to enhance the cooperation in the satellite development program[citation needed] .

  • SUPARCO and the Department of Space have signed formal Memorandum of Understanding agreements with a number of foreign political entities:

See also


  1. ^\06\04\story_4-6-2009_pg7_16
  2. ^ History of SUPARCO
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d
  7. ^ Welcome to SUPARCO - The National Space Agency of Pakistan
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ a b c d e f
  11. ^ Image of Shaheen-III SLV
  12. ^
  13. ^ Palapa-C 1, 2 / HGS 3 / Anatolia 1 / Paksat 1
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c d
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Pakistan News Service - PakTribune
  26. ^ Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - China, Pakistan cooperate in space

External links


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