Pakistan’s Journey with PAKSAT-MM1 and Future Prospects

Pakistan’s premier space agency, the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), announced last month that it has successfully launched and placed a multi-mission satellite, PAKSAT-MM1, in geostationary orbit. This satellite was designed and manufactured in collaboration with China. Both countries are members of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, and the launch took place at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. This successful deployment marks another milestone in the growing space partnership between Pakistan and China, highlighting the technical and cooperative advancements in their space endeavours.

According to the information released by SUPARCO, PAKSAT-MM1 will provide communication services in the C, Ku, and Ka bands and Satellite-Based Augmentation Services (SBAS) in the L band. Understanding these terms is crucial to appreciate the satellite’s functionality, which will begin its 15-year service journey in August. These bands represent different ranges of microwave frequencies, each serving specific communication purposes. For example, the C and Ku bands are used for long-distance radio and television broadcasts, respectively. The Ka band, with higher frequency microwave signals, supports high-speed satellite communication, offering faster data rates compared to the C and Ku bands. SBAS, on the other hand, enhances the accuracy and reliability of satellite navigation signals in the L band, which is dedicated to mobile satellite services and certain navigation systems. The L band is less affected by weather conditions, making it ideal for enhancing GNSS information. This broad spectrum of frequency bands makes PAKSAT-MM1 a true multi-mission communication satellite.

Pakistan, with a population of 240 million and a median age of 23 years, is one of the youngest and most populous countries globally. This demographic brings a growing demand for advanced communication technologies and digital connectivity frameworks. The launch of PAKSAT-MM1 is a step in this direction, aiming to enhance internet connectivity across Pakistan, where access is still a significant issue in as much as half the country. With a relatively tech-savvy young population, better internet access can significantly increase employment opportunities, allowing the youth to offer their services to potential employers worldwide, irrespective of geographical constraints. For a cash-strapped country like Pakistan, this represents a cost-effective means of addressing low foreign exchange reserves while creating online jobs. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif echoed these sentiments, stating that the satellite would not only improve citizens’ lives but also promote economic activities, e-commerce, and e-governance.

PAKSAT-MM1 is part of the National Space Program 2047, which aims to launch several communication, remote sensing, and weather satellites. International collaboration is a key aspect of this program, and Pakistan has previously partnered with China on the PRSS-1 and PakTES-1A satellites. These collaborations have facilitated knowledge and technology transfer, significantly enhancing the capabilities of Pakistani space scientists and engineers. This knowledge extends to other critical areas, such as defense, where Pakistan lags behind its arch-rival India. India’s private sector enterprises are making significant strides in the defense sector, showcasing their growing capability and innovative potential. For instance, a private firm recently designed and manufactured the first spy satellite for the Indian Army, marking a new era of space utilization for defense purposes. Historically, the private sector is known for its efficiency and innovation, often surpassing public sector enterprises in these areas. Recognizing this, Pakistan should actively involve its private sector in its space and defense programs. Encouragingly, there are indications that Pakistan’s policy direction is starting to align with this approach, signaling a positive shift towards greater private sector participation. In modern weapon systems, the importance of space-based assets for communication, intelligence, and surveillance cannot be overstated. While satellite launches like PAKSAT-MM1 are commendable, Pakistan needs to address the gap in space assets between itself and India before it becomes insurmountable.

Space, despite its vastness, is becoming increasingly congested due to the surge in private satellite launches from companies like SpaceX. This congestion is making it progressively more challenging to find suitable orbits, highlighting the urgent need for accelerated satellite design and launch efforts to meet both civilian and military needs. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who attended the recent satellite launch, expressed optimism by saying, “The day is not far when we will launch our satellites on our own rockets from Pakistan’s Space Launch Centre. Congratulations, Pakistan.” While having its own space launch center would undoubtedly boost Pakistan’s space program, achieving this goal seems difficult given the current economic situation. Economic constraints have always been a significant challenge for Pakistan’s space program and are likely to continue in the near future.

[Image credit: paksat.com.pk]

Akash Shah works as a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. His work primarily focuses on developments and militarization in outer space. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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