By teaming up with China on a satellite launch, Pakistan has taken a bold step forward with its space programme. And there are mutual benefits to the arrangement, Syed Fazl-e-Haider writes
A The recent launch of the advanced communication satellite Paksat-1R was not only a big stride forward for Pakistan's 2040 space programme, but also Sino-Pakistan space collaboration.
Last week, China launched Paksat-1R with the Long March-3B carrier rocket from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in south-west Sichuan province. The new satellite will replace Paksat-1, which will complete its useful life this year.
Critics have questioned whether Pakistan can really take the credit for the development of a satellite that was made by China, financed by China and ultimately launched by and from China. But Pakistan is now able to achieve several strategic objectives through Paksat-IR, including serving an expanding client base, which includes the military. With the launch of the satellite, the country has entered into a long-term relationship with its manufacturer towards acquiring the know-how to produce satellites in the future, with the ultimate aim of achieving self-reliance. Now it is also able to establish and maintain ground control stations for operating Paksat-1R from Pakistan.
Pakistan's space programme owes its existence to China's cooperation that spans from climate science, clean energy technologies, clean water technologies, cyber security and basic space, to atmospheric, Earth and marine sciences. It was China that launched the country's first low-orbit satellite Badr-A in July 1990. In 2006, China committed to work with Pakistan to launch three earth resource satellites.
Islamabad sought more than US$200 million (Dh734.5m) financing from China for Paksat-1's replacement. The two countries signed the procurement contract during the first state visit by Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, to Beijing in 2008.
Paksat-1, Pakistan's first geostationary satellite, was launched in February 1996. It served TV broadcasters, telecommunications companies, data and broadband internet service providers, and government organisations.
With a lifespan of 15 years, Paksat-1R will have great economic implications for the country. The satellite will provide high-power communication and weather monitoring facilities, besides strategic defence applications. The Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission will operate it from its ground control stations in Karachi and Lahore. With advance communication antennas, it will cover some regions of Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and eastern Africa. It will facilitate the introduction of new services including broadband internet, digital TV broadcasting, rural telephony, emergency communications, tele-education and tele-medicine.
Pakistan is also making efforts to get space technology from China. It plans to launch the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS) in the near future with the technical and financial assistance of China. Launching PRSS is now the first priority for Pakistan, because such a satellite can help it in cartographic studies. China has not only achieved the capability of placing its satellites in space, but is also developing rockets. It has created a powerful carrier rocket with military capabilities that can launch multiple satellites into space.
China is conquering new frontiers in space technology. Shenzhou 7, the third manned spaceflight, has established a new threshold for China. It has already planned Shenzhou 8, which will be docked with the Tiangong-1 space module that will place the first portion of China's planned space laboratory in orbit.
China's space technology industrial base is rapidly expanding, and its sales overseas have so far focused on its traditional allies including Pakistan. Space and rocket technology from China would help Pakistan achieve its ambitious goals of economic progress and impregnable defence. While China can transfer space technology to Pakistan, in return Pakistan could assist China in space by establishing a station on its soil to track Chinese satellites.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004