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Pakistan steps forward in astronomy and space sciences

KARACHI: Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), which is often criticised by Pakistani scientific community for not being on par with its Indian or Chinese counterparts, sent two satellites in space from a launching facility in China this July.
Pakistan steps forward in astronomy and space sciencesA surprise as it may be, one of the satellites launched the PakTES-1A, which was indigenously designed and developed by Pakistani engineers.
Primarily aimed at remote sensing, the satellite is providing promising results, meeting or even exceeding expectations, a senior official of Suparco says.
Talking about the development phase of the satellite, the official says that it was a tough task to complete it on time because the launch date had already been fixed and a delay of not even a day could be afforded.
“The other satellite, PRSS-1, developed by China and Pakistan in collaboration, was due to launch on July 9, and PakTES-1A had to be co-launched, thus the Pakistani engineers worked day and night to have it ready by then,” he says.
Every year, developed and emerging nations such as the United States, European Union, Japan, China and India cumulatively spend trillions of dollars on technologies to send humans into the space, deploy sophisticated satellites for a variety of purposes, and to find new worlds through space and ground-based telescopes.
In recent times, China and India have emerged as next big players in the space industry.
These countries provide logistical support and launching facilities to many nations who do not possess the necessary infrastructure to do that on their own.
Pakistan, too, has historically relied on China to get its satellites launched into space. Yet to come on par with India in space sciences, Pakistan also lags behind in research related to astronomy with no major astronomical breakthrough coming from indigenous institutions, however, Pakistanis associated with NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) are performing with excellence in their respective fields.
The official says that the non-availability of an indigenous launching facility was not an immediate area of concern. “Currently, we are focusing on developing satellites because we can nevertheless get them launched from another country.
This satellite that we have developed is manufactured completely in Pakistan and is providing promising results. Once we are adept in development of satellite technology, we can venture out in other arenas as well,” he says.
Suparco faces hurdles
Conceding the fact that Suparco is behind many regional space agencies, the official said that Suparco had repeatedly faced bureaucratic hurdles to the point of questioning its purpose of existence.
“But we have continued working despite all the budgetary constraints and external red tape. We have scientists who could easily be hired by Nasa and ESA but they are working hard to serve the nation with whatever resources that they have,” he says.
Shift the focus from the public sector efforts in space technology and astronomy, and one sees that the country’s amateur astronomy scene is also vibrant and there are astronomy societies in all major cities, working at their best to spread awareness in masses about the universe with whatever resources and technical expertise that they have.
There are currently astronomy societies in Pakistan’s cities of Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta. These societies were started and are being operated by amateur astronomers — enthusiasts who have little to no professional education in astronomy but are guided by their love for the universe.
Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2018
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