Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission

Last updated on 23 October 2017

The Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) is an executive and bureaucratic space agency of the Government of Pakistan, responsible for the nation's public and civil space programme and for aeronautics and aerospace research. Its mission statement and objective is to conduct peaceful research in space technology and promote the technology for socio-economic uplift of the country.[3]

Established in its modern form on 16 September 1961 by an executive order of President of Pakistan, it is headquartered in Karachi, Sindh Province of Pakistan.[4] Part of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) of Pakistan Armed Forces, which is currently headquartered at the Chakalala Military District under the control of the PAF;[5] the space programme recorded number of pioneering accomplishments in space flight during the initial years of its establishment.[5][6]

Since its creation in 1961, the SUPARCO has achieved numerous milestones, including the first successful spaceflight of country's first weather expendable launch rocket, Rehbar-I.[7] The country's first satellite, Badr-I, was built by the SUPARCO and launched by the People's Republic of China in 1990.[7] However, during the meantime, the space programme suffered many setbacks, difficulties, and problems that partly slowed the progress of the space programme.[8] The bureaucratic influence and politicization further lagged the space programme and many projects were cancelled by the superior authorities.[8]

Over the years, SUPARCO expanded and has several well expanded installations all over the country as assets, and cooperates in peaceful use of space technology with the international community as a part of several bilateral and multilateral agreements.[9] SUPARCO's science and research is mainly focused and concentrated on better understanding of the Solar system,[10] Space weather,[11] astrophysics[12] (Big Bang Theory and Physical cosmology),[13] astronomical observation,[14] climatic studies,[15] space and telemedicine,[16] remote sensing[17] and the Earth observation.[13]

Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission.jpg
Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission.jpg

Aim and mission statement

The prime goal and mainstream functional objective of SUPARCO is to undertake research and develop space technology and associated technologies to be served on the various task related to national interest of the country.[18] Its official mission states its space policy:

"Strive to achieve self-reliance in space technology and applications for national security, economy and society."

— Mission statement of Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, source[1]



The independent research in space sciences and aeronautical development was ensued and goaded by the senior physicists at the Department of Physics of the Punjab University, in 1957, following the successful launch of Soviet Union's first artificial satellite, the Sputnik 1[19] However, due to the political instability, the serious initiatives to establish the programme were not undertaken by the Government of Pakistan. Since 1958, Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam had played a major and influential role in the development of Pakistan's science policy. It was Salam's advice to the President, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, to establish a national space authority to oversee the development on the space programme; this led to the establishment of the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (denoted as SUPARCO) on 16 September 1961, with Abdus Salam being its first administrator and director. It was decided to set up a committee dealing with space sciences, consequently, a Space Sciences Research Wing at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). Within few weeks, the committee was established through the Presidential Executive Order (PEO) of President Ayub Khan which was addressed to co-chairman Ishrat Usmani, the Chairman of PAEC. The programme of rocket test firings was entrusted to the Chairman of PAEC.[7]

1960s: Space flight programmes

One of the most earliest and notable achievements of SUPARCO activities was its unmanned space flight programme that was recorded on 7 June 1962.[7][20] SUPARCO made research in the development of first solid-fuel expandable rockets, an assistance provided by the United States.[7] On 7 June 1962, SUPARCO landed a record achievement when it launched first unmanned solid-fuel sounding rocket and took its first initial space flight from the Sonmiani Terminal Launch.[20] The rocket was developed in a joint venture with Air force in a team led by PAF's Air Commodore (Brigadier-General) WJM Turowicz.[7] Known as the Rehbar-I (lit. Teller of the way), Pakistan had secured its distinction as the third country in Asia and the tenth in the world to conduct successful spaceflight.[7] The unmanned spaceflight mission continued under Turowicz, and according to SUPARCO, since 1962 til the partial termination of mission in 1972, ~200 sounding rockets took high success space flights from Sonmiani Terminal Launch.[21] The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) publicly hailed the space flight programme as the beginning of "a programme of continuous cooperation in space research of mutual interest.[22]"

An artistic diagram of Paksat-1E satellite.

This cooperative agreement called for the training of Pakistan's scientists, engineers, and technicians at the specialized facilities in the United States.[22] Before the June 1962 space flight programme, NASA had begun to train Pakistan's scientists at Wallops Island and the Goddard Space Flight Centres.[22] NASA also set up fellowships and research associate programmes at various American universities for "advanced training and experience."[22]

On 25 July 1964, Salam arranged another meeting with President Ayub Khan where SUPARCO was placed under the direct control of the President of Pakistan; it was followed by constitution of SUPARCO as an executive but separate authority under the administrative control of Salam on 8 March 1966.[7] By the presidential decree, Salam was brought as its first and founding chairman and given the powers previously held by the PAEC Chairman.[7]

Abdus Salam laid foundation of space infrastructure in Karachi and Lahore, particularly establishing infrastructure for physics research. With the establishment of SUPARCO, Pakistan was the first South Asian country to start a space programme.[23][24] In 1967, Abdus Salam was succeeded by Air Commdore Władysław Turowicz, as he was made administrator of SUPARCO.[7] Air Commdore Turowicz led the foundation of research activities and rocketry development in SUPARCO to the field of aeronautic sciences.[7] The Doppler Radar Station (Islamabad Mission Control Center) was also established in the country as a part of a global network.[8] In 1973, American Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt paid a state visit to Karachi amid great fanfare, to see the SUPARCO's headquarters.[8] During the early 1970s, the Islamabad Ionospheric Station within Quaid-e-Azam University was set up and the NASA Landsat ground station was established near Rawat.[8]

1970s–1980s: Bureaucratization and reorganization

Entering in the late 1970s era, the space programme suffered many setback and experience number of difficulties, including lack of government response, shortage of technical personnel and expert engineers needed for the country to have an effective space programme.[8] The space flight programme was abruptly ended due to lack of funds and lessening government response.[8] It was during this time the militarization of the space programme took place by Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when many senior combatant officers were appointed at the administrative position in the space programme.[8] Many scientists involved in the programme were forcefully transferred to PAEC and KRL to aid the success of the atomic bomb project.[8] In 1981, reforms and re-organization of the space programme was carried out when Munir Ahmad Khan began to rebuild the space infrastructure, particularly in rocketry programme which would later form the basis of missile programme. On 13 December 1979, Munir Ahmad Khan arranged a meeting at bureaucratic level with President General Zia-ul-Haq where Khan persuaded the country's bureaucracy to put efforts to re-establish the space programme with an autonomous status without any political influence. Under taking the advice of Munir Khan, the space programme was again reorganized and appointed nuclear engineer dr. Salim Mehmud from PAEC as the chairman of SUPARCO. The bureaucratization of the SUPARCO took place in 1981 when the secretariat level committee, the Executive Committee of the Space Research Council was established with its members containing the officials from the finance, science, and economics ministries, chaired by the Finance minister of the country.[25] The committee maintained its bureaucratic control over the space programme and had influence on wide range of policy measure programmes relating the space facilities and financial and scientific development of the rocketry programmes.[7] In 1979-80s, SUPARCO launched the project to develop country's first artificial satellite and began sending hundreds of engineers to University of Surrey England to participate in the development of UO-11 which was launched in 1984.[26] In 1983, a communication satellite project called Paksat was initiated, with the establishment of the 10-meter diameter satellite ground station for interception of satellite transmissions was set up that was mainly designed against India.[8] According to the scientists involved in this programme, the real aim was to launch a satellite that could stage a "cultural counter attack" on India with the influx of new Pakistani media channels.[8] But when Zia visited SUPARCO, all projects were cancelled and abruptly ended the satellite programme, citing the lack of funds.[8] However, Munir Khan and others pressurized Zia to continue the development of the satellite despite Zia's unwillingness.[8]

After participating in various projects with University of Surrey, the team of engineers returned to Pakistan in 1986.[26] Munir Ahmad Khan then returned to General Zia-ul-Haq and obtained his approval to begin practical work on Badr-I.[27] The project was started by SUPARCO's Dr. Salim Mehmud as director of the project and was supported by the members of Pakistan Amateur Radio Society.[26] In short span of time, the Project Badr was completed, and the first satellite was named Badr-1.[26] In 1990, Badr-I — Pakistan's first locally built satellite — was launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) of People's Republic of China (PRC).[28]

1990s: Orbital slot crises and setbacks

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

In the 1990s, the space programme experienced a number of orbital slot crises and failures, just like the one experienced in the Soviet space program. In 1991, SUPARCO launched another satellite project, Badr-B, with the technical assistance provided by the United Kingdom. The spacecraft's sub-systems were developed and manufactured by Pakistan-based DESTO, SIL, and British Rutherford Laboratory, while the spacecraft integration was performed by SUPARCO.[26] The programme was completed in 1994, and it was expected to be launched the same year.[26] However, the space programme began to suffer much more serious hindrances and lacked the technical assistance to launch the satellite on its own.[8] The target to complete the satellite could not be achieved on time,[26] and in 1994, plans to launch the spacecraft did not materialise, and the launch was halted and delayed long to 2001.[26] Unlike its competitor Indian space programme which had ISRO to control over the space programme, Pakistan's space programme was now split between the competition with PAEC, NDC, DESTO, PAF Missile Command, and the KRL.[29] Despite its success in its space flight programme in the 1960s, SUPARCO began to face intense competition from its rival organizations to build the space boosters.[29] In the 1980s, SUPARCO largely took participation in building the first space booster, Hatf-I, but lost its credibility to KRL who derived the space vehicle into an operational missile.[30] As early as in 1995, SUPARCI lost its major contract to NDC bureau to develop the country's first space booster, Shaheen-I.[29] Although, SUPARCO contributed by building the solid-fuel engine of the rocket and its space launch pad was also used for the spaceflights,[31] SUPARCO failed to gain the government's interest in its capabilities, and the control of the Shaheen expandable programme was handed over to NDC bureau as its executive authority.[31]

In 1999, Abdul Qadeer Khan attempted to persuade President Pervez Musharraf but was unable to convince him to launch the satellite from Flight Test Center with Ghauri-I as its space booster.[32] In 2001, after long negotiation with the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), the Badr-B took its first successful flight with Meteor-3M, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, with Ukrainian Zenit-2 rocket as its boost launcher.[26] Although the satellite was operated successfully, SUPARCO could not sustain the control of the satellite.[8] The SUPARCO suffered a major setback and failure in its satellite programme when the satellite, two years after its launch, was lost in deep space and failed to reassure its orbital slots and reentry.[8] According to sources within SUPARCO, the satellite was lost within two years, despite its designated life of five years, yet "no one in SUPARCO really knows what exactly happened to the satellite when contact was lost with it."[8] Because of the surrounded secrecy and classified status, and for propaganda value, the details of the missions were covered up and buried deep; the government never fully investigated the incident.[8]

In 1993, the Paksat programme was restarted but, unfortunately, terminated in 1994 after SUPARCO lost the two orbital slots 38°E longitude and 41°E longitude, which was acquired for it in the Geo-synchronous orbit.[8] In 2002, SUPARCO again applied for the allocation of five GSo slots (38°E, 41°E, 30°E, 88°E and 101°E) and was filed.[8] Although granted, SUPARCO faced the risk of losing its priority 38°E slot, if it didn’t launch its own satellite by April 2003.[8] Being under pressure and understanding the substantial negative impact on the space programme, SUPARCO made a move to acquire an American satellite-building firm, Hughes Satellite Systems (HGS), at a cost of around $5 million. This second-hand satellite had been originally designed for Indonesia, but after a battery problem occurred making it useless during certain hours of the day, the firm solved the problem and sold the satellite to Pakistan as Paksat-1.[8]

2000s–2010s: Recent developments and revitalisation

In 2000, SUPARCO was brought under the National Command Authority in order to focus on "real development", as its chairman maintained.[33] Under the privileges and opportunities awarded by the economic liberalisation policies of Prime minister Shaukat Aziz, SUPARCO pushed herself to gain the support from local government and the private-sector.[33]

In 2003, Pervez Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz began to forcefully push SUPARCO to pursue and deliver an active space programme.[34] Funds and government support were increased personally by Pervez Musharraf as he goaded the space programme as "next logical frontier".[34] In 2004, SUPARCO launched an ambitious project to develop the country's first Geo-stationary satellite; the new project was known as Paksat-1Replacement.[35] In 2007, Shaukat Aziz paid a state visit to Beijing where he successfully persuaded China to join the project, and to provide financial assistance to make the project timely successful.[36]

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"[37]

In 2011, Paksat 1R satellite was launched from China and was deployed successfully at 38°E in the Geo-stationary orbit.[38][39][40] The new satellite took over the existing satellites of the country in orbit.[41] Despite its initiatives to make the space programme more extended to private-sector, it was reportedly revealed by the chairman of SUPARCO in 2012 that "despite its initiatives and undertaking numerous development projects and joint ventures", but the efforts are seemingly wasted and work suffers from co-ordination failures at the local government level.[33]

Test facilities and space centers

The headquarters of the SUPARCO are located in Karachi, Sindh Province near the Karachi University; while its administrative infrastructure is well developed and expanded all over the country. As early as the 1980s, SUPARCO joined the International Cospas-Sarsat Programme of Soviet Union and finally inaugurated the facility at the SUPARCO Headquarters.[42] Known as "Pakistan Mission Control Center", the first commissioning test was carried out from 10 November 2009 at 0500Hrs.[42]

The SUPARCO Plant located near Hub (a township of coastal Balochistan in Lasbela), the Paksat-1R ground Control Station (near PCSIR Laboratories) and FTR (Flight Testing Range) located in Sonmiani, also in Balochistan, near Karachi.

Facility Locations Primary Functions
SUPARCO Plant Karachi, Sindh Province The SUPARCO plant in Karachi was built in the mid-1980s to manufacture sounding rockets for upper atmosphere research. Pakistan's Hatf-I and Hatf-II ballistic missiles are believed to be derivatives of French sounding rockets built by or with assistance from the ESA.\
SUPARCO Institute of Technical Training (SITT) Karachi, Sindh Province SITT induces Matriculates all over the Pakistan and train them with Diploma of Associate Engineering (D.A.E).
Instrumentation Laboratories (IL) Karachi, Sindh Province The laboratories are responsible for the design and fabrication of data sensors for rockets, satellites, and ground equipment.
Aerospace Institute (AI) Institute of Space Technology (IST), Islamabad The Aerospace Institute is Pakistan's sole institution for training personnel in the fields of space technology. It also serves as a recruiting and training ground for engineers, scientists, and personnel involved in Pakistan's space programme.
Satellite Research and Development Center (SRDC) Lahore, Punjab province The research and satellite engineering development centre responsible for the design and development of satellites.
Satellite Ground Station (SGS) Rawat, Islamabad Capital Territory The SUPARCO-controlled earth observation and remote sensing satellite control space centre.
Flight Test Range (FTR) Sonmiani Beach, Balochistan Province The oldest and main launch facility of SUPARCO.
Mashhood Test Firing Range (MTFR) Jhelum City, Punjab Province The second orbital launch facility.
PAKSAT Ground Control Station (PGCS-L) Lahore, Punjab Province The SUPARCO's ground control facility to control PAKSAT-1R satellite.
PAKSAT Ground Control Station (PGCS-K) Karachi, Sind Province The SUPARCO's Ground Control facility to control PAKSAT-1R satellite.

Notable projects and achievements

Rehbar spaceflight programme

On 7 June 1962 at 19:53 hours (PST), the Rehbar-I took its first successful spaceflight in deep space from the Sonmiani Terminal Launch. The rocket 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. This was followed by the second booster, the Rehbar-II, which was also successfully launched from Sonmiani terminal launch on 9 June 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.[43] 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 space flight program was terminated on 8 April 1972.

Hatf Programme

The Hatf programme was developed with the contribution of the SUPARCO's scientists with collaboration from scientists of the KRL. The program was developed in extreme secrecy and was finally revealed in 1989 by the Pakistan Army. In January 1989, the rocket made its first maiden spaceflight which was dubbed by the army as "indigenous multistage rocket into deep space"; it was said to have reached an altitude of more than 480 km. Earlier in 1981, SUPARCO had announced plans to test a launcher by 1986, and the Pakistan's press reported in early 1989 that a multi-stage rocket had successfully launched a 150-kilogram payload over 600 kilometers into "deep space.[22]"


The preparations are being made to launched the Pakistan-based Rehbar Nike-Cajun in launch position in the 1962.

SUPARCO, which had participated earlier in the development of the Shaheen-I, began to take research on developing the first space-expandable vehicle in 1998. In March 2001, Science Advisor to President Abdul Qadeer Khan publicly announced that SUPARCO's scientists were in the process of building the country's first expendable launch vehicle, and that the contract has been awarded to SUPARCO rather than NDC.[44]

Abdul Qadeer Khan also cited the motivation that "India had made rapid advances in launch technology" and satellite manufacturing as another motivation for developing indigenous launch capabilities. SUPARCO's previous chairman Dr. Abdul Majid confirmed Khan's statement and said "Pakistan envisions a low-cost satellite rocket-booster in order to launch light-weight satellites into low Earth orbits. Abdul Qadeer Khan closed his statement by adding that "Pakistan has very robust IRBMs which can launch geostationary orbiting satellites. All Pakistan has to do is to erase Delhi or Kolkata 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".[44] During the IDEAS 2002, journalists took pictures of the two possible and similar models of the satellite launch booster of SUPARCO.

It was widely speculated in 2002 by the international media that the country was deriving its missiles into an effective space booster, as most likely "the second model might also be based on one of the ballistic missiles, operational with Pakistan Armed Forces.[45]

On 18 August 2009, Samar Mubarak Mand reported that "Pakistan would launch its own satellite in April 2011 it made some things seem all too obvious to analyst familiar with the subject".[46] According to Global, it was expected that the satellite would be launched from Shaheen-III booster from an unknown space facility within Pakistan.[46] However, the satellite was launched by using the Long March 3B as its vehicle. Shaheen-III which was successfully tested on March 9, 2015 by Pakistan government turned out to be a medium-range ballistic missile. It may be possible in the future for SUPARCO to build lightweight satellites and deliver them using a Shaheen-III variant.

Satellite-control programmes

Since the early 1960s, when the second spaceflight of Rehbar-II weather rocket successfully took place to measure the upper atmosphere; the program gradually improved.[47] In the 1980s, the Badr satellite program took place to counter the Rohini satellite, and was eventually launched by SUPARCO in 1990 in China. Since then, SUPARCO has an active satellite control program and controls various satellites, under the mutual agreement with the international community, from the Pakistan Mission Control Center (PMCC) located in SUPARCO headquarters.[48]

Communication and geosynchronous satellites


In 1986, SUPARCO took initiatives to locally build the country's first digital communication satellite, with the financial support from ministries of telecommunication and science.[49] Initially, the government wanted SUPARCO to hold talks with NASA but after the Challenger disaster, the U.S Government halted all major spaceflights. Instead China voluntarily offered Pakistan to launch its satellite, using its Long March 2 rockets. In 1990, the satellite was immediately airlifted to China with SUPARCO personnel. In July 1990, the nation's first satellite was launched from China as, Badr-1, aboard a Long March 2E from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China. The satellite successfully completed its designed life and it was termed by the government as a key success to SUPARCO.


The PakSat program was originally conceived in the 1980s but due to its first technical failure, the program was terminated in 1994. In 2003, SUPARCO held talks with Hughes Space and Communications Company to lease one of the Palapa satellites that it placed in ego-synchronous orbit for Indonesia. After Indonesia publicly declared that the satellite was unusable due to an electric power anomaly; the Hughes Space Company paid the insurance claims and sold the satellite to SUPARCO and renamed it as "PakSat-IE".[50] The 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°East. After a series of orbital maneuvers, the satellite was stabilized at the final location on 20 December 2002 with 0°inclination. The satellite is in position at the Pakistan-licensed orbital location, 38°east longitude. In 2012. The PakSat-IE was decommissioned later after the second satellite was launched in 2011.


On 14 August 2011, PakSat-1R was launched by China using Long March 3B rocket. The 11,000 lb Satellite was built by China Academy of Space Technology on DFH-4 space platform; this satellite replaced PakSat-1E.[51][52][53] The PakSat-1R is a program to support all conventional and modern Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) applications including broadband, E-learning, telemedicine, digital TV and emergency communications. The PakSat-1R satellite is programmed to control a total of up to 30 transponders: 18 in Ku-band and 12 in C-band. To ensure high degree of reliability and availability of the system, SUPARCO has two operational Mission control centers which were established in Karachi and Lahore, one to act as the Main control facility and the other as Backup respectively.[54][55]

Weather and earth observation


In 1992, SUPARCO was given orders to develop its first LEO-based Earth observation satellite. According to the director of this program Dr. Abdul Majid, the satellite was to launch in June 1996 but the orbital crises delayed the launch of satellite and then it was launched on 10 December 2001 at 17:19 hours UT, Pakistan, from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Zenit-2 rocket.

Although, it was successfully put in orbit by SUPARCO in 2003, but according to internal sources in SUPARCO, the satellite ended up in a major disaster in mere two years after its launch despite its five-year designated life. The satellite was lost in deep space after it failed to reassure its orbital slot and failed to make its reentry in Earth's orbit.

Remote sensing satellites

In 2006-07, SUPARCO launched the development on high-resolution and the series of remote-sensing weather satellties to meet the national and international user requirements in the field of satellite imagery.[56] This dual purpose remote-sensing and the weather satellite program is known as the PRS program, and in January 2007, a feasibility and system definition study was concluded by SUPARCO, which recommended the launch of an optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite to ensure that the domestic and international user requirements are competitively met. In July 2007, the development of the first prototype optical satellite in this PRS program was launched, the manufacturing of the satellite was planned in the third quarter of year 2008.[56] Initially, SUPARCO plans to launch an optical satellite with payload of 2.5-meter PAN in 700 km sun-synchronous orbit, which will be followed by a series of optical and SAR satellites in the future. The satellite is under development process by SUPARCO and it is expected to be launched in 2014.[56]

Planetary sciences and scientific missions

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 an 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

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 space observatory. It is the oldest space observatory in the country and has remained a center of learning for more than 75 years.


Revitalisation and research program of SUPARCO

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"[37]

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

NGC 3521- the Bubble galaxy.jpg
A view of the spiral universe.

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 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

  • 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

Administrators of SUPARCO

Number Name Term Started Term Ended Alma Mater Field(s) Educational Background
1 Dr Abdus Salam 1961 1967 Imperial College Theoretical Physics Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)
2 Air Commodore Dr Władysław Turowicz 1967 1979 Warsaw University of Technology Aeronautical Engineering Ph.D
3 Air Commodore K. M. Ahmad 1979 1980 Pakistan Air Force Academy Flight Instructor Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI)
4 Dr Salim Mehmud 1980 1989 Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Nuclear Engineering, Electrical engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Electronics engineering Ph.D
5 Dr M. Shafi Ahmad 1989 1990 University of London Astronomy Ph.D
6 Engr. Sikandar Zaman 1990 1997 University of Leeds Mechanical Engineering Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
7 Dr Abdul Majid 1997 2001 University of Wales Astrophysics Ph.D
8 Major General Raza Hussain 2001 2010 Pakistan Army Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Electrical Engineering B.S.
9 Major General Ahmed Bilal 2010 2016 Pakistan Army Corps of Signals Engineering Computer Engineering Master of Science (M.S)
10 Major General Qaiser Anees Khurram 2016 Present Pakistan Army Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Mechanical Engineering B.S

Global participation

People's Republic of China

In August 2006, Peoples 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]


In December 2006, Turkey showed interest to form a joint-venture with Pakistan in its space programme, particularly in the development of satellites.[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]

International collaboration and MoU

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:

See also


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