Over 60 years ago, Pakistan accomplished a remarkable feat that not only outpaced India but also positioned it ahead of much of the Muslim world and other developing nations. In June 1962, Pakistan marked its name as the third Asian country and the tenth globally to successfully launch a rocket into outer space.
Established in 1961, eight years prior to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Pakistan’s space agency, the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), once held a leading position. However, it has fallen behind ISRO, which now ranks among the top ten largest space agencies worldwide.
Between 1990 and 2018, Pakistan managed to launch a total of five satellites. Nevertheless, SUPARCO’s space program encountered numerous obstacles, challenges, and setbacks that somewhat hindered its progress.
In its early years, SUPARCO imported and managed a limited amount of rocket fuel for scientific investigations. In 1999, the agency announced its intention to develop its own satellites and launch vehicles within three years. Yet, no further details about this initiative emerged. SUPARCO has also been engaged in the Space Programme 2040, aiming to replace geostationary communication satellites.
Criticism within Pakistan has been directed at SUPARCO for not matching the advancements achieved by its Indian and Chinese counterparts. Both India and China have ascended as influential players in the realm of space exploration in recent decades.
This divergence is exemplified in the budget allocations. India earmarked Rs. 12,543.9 crore for its space department this year, while Pakistan dedicated PKR 739.51 crores to SUPARCO-related Public Sector Development Projects (PSDP) in the previous fiscal year.
While India has accomplished feats such as a soft landing on the Moon’s South Pole and is gearing up for its maiden human spaceflight mission, Gaganyaan, expected in 2023 or 2024, ISRO is also preparing for its inaugural space mission to study the Sun with Aditya L-1, scheduled for August this year.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s current economic struggles have hampered its progress in space exploration. The nation is grappling with its most severe economic challenges, witnessing sluggish growth, surging inflation, and high interest rates. In fact, the GDP expanded by a mere 0.29 percent in the fiscal year ending in June 2023, marking the first instance in the country’s history with growth below 1 percent, as per the National Accounts Committee report.
One significant factor contributing to Pakistan’s lag in space exploration is its ongoing struggle with persistent economic hurdles, limiting substantial investments in space research and exploration.