FOUNDED in 1969, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is a space mission of India and its role is to advance space technology, space programs, satellite systems, television broadcasting, disaster warning and the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) for various national tasks. It is headed by the Chief Executive and its headquarters is situated in Bengaluru. It has launched many space systems since its foundation. It made its first experiment in 1988 by launching its first satellite, Radar Imaging Satellite, named GSAT 1988. ISRO’s second experiment occurred in 2012 when it launched its second satellite, RISAT-1. Some other successful experiments, like the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV, Altika and Orbit, were done by ISRO back in 2013. Some heavy-lift versions of GSLV were launched, such as the LVM3 Satellite for Earth Observation. The most significant experiment of ISRO was the mission to the moon and for this, they launched Chandrayaan-1 and 2, which were launched in 2008 and 2019, respectively. One of the tasks of the ISRO is the Mars Orbiter Mission of 2013, which was launched to put astronauts into orbit. This is the future ISRO project, which will be completed under the Gaganyaan Spacecraft mission in 2024. There have been so many missions by ISRO that have taken place; however, earlier in 2013, the first interplanetary mission to Mars, known as Mars Orbiter or Mangalyaan, was achieved successfully by ISRO.
Currently, India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission was completed by two visitors named Pragyan and Vikram, who landed in the southern polar region of the moon. This mission has made India the first country to reach this part of the lunar surface and the fourth country in the world to land on the moon. While landing on the moon, scientists have explored that the distance from the Earth to the moon is about 384,400 kilometres (238,855 miles). However, the Indian astronauts landed successfully and stated they had landed about 370 miles from the South Pole and at about 70 degrees south latitude. The landing on the moon was viewed by 7.5 million people on YouTube and all news channels in India telecast the whole event live to attract more people to this milestone in history made by the Indian government. A report has asked S Somanath, the current director of the ISRO, how much cost was spent on this project. He replied that he would never disclose this secret; however, its cost equals Chandrayaan-2, which was reported as $46 million when launched in 2019.
The World Space Program, like NASA and other Space Technology counterparts, warmly congratulated the ISRO team for achieving this milestone. Bill Nelson, a veteran administrator of NASA, congratulated ISRO for the successful soft landing on the moon. He also articulated that NASA is glad to be the partner on this mission. Some experts believe that NASA sponsored it when Modi visited America for the last time and decided to have a co-partnership in Space technology. The Tweet of Bil Nelson shows that NASA has fully supported the ISRO in its Deep Space Network of Radio antenna for communication with India’s Chandrayaan-3. It shows that India could only reach the moon with NASA’s support. The ISRO faces the same challenges as the Suparco in Pakistan, despite ISRO having shown dedication by launching Chanrayaan-3 and still moving forward to pursue its goals. They plan to set some strategies to overcome its weaknesses, like resource allocation, international collaborations and technical capabilities.
Contrary to ISRO in this region, Pakistan started its space program in 1960, named Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). It was marked as an official project of the Pakistani government to improve research in space technology, satellite development and related fields. Pakistan made its first endeavor in space technology by launching Rahbar-1, which was launched on December 7, 1961, using a US Scout rocket. Several other projects like suborbital flights and sounding rocket, the Launch of Badr Satellites on July 16, 1990, Remote Sensing and Earth Observation (PRSS-1) which was launched in 2018, are a few worthy projects of SUPARCO, a Pakistani-based space center, still the country is endeavoring to make a significant contribution in the space program, however political turmoil, grumbling economy and dwindling currency has diverted Pakistan as a state of chaos.
Some external and internal factors have badly affected the SUPARCO space program. These are limited funding by the government, lack of political and public support, technological challenges, brain-drain, limited international collaboration, technical and operational challenges and the changing priorities of stakeholders. The political turmoil and internal security dynamics are a few hindrances to SUPARCO. The government of Pakistan should allocate necessary financial support to the National Space Agency to develop projects through the mechanism of the Public and Private Partnership programs. The relevant ministries, government and non-government organizations must provide adequate human resources, infrastructure and equipment to effectively utilize the space technology in the country. The National Space Agency shall facilitate the socio-economic development of the country. It should expand its services in sectors like agriculture, forestry, Geology and mineral inspection, environment, urban planning management and disasters. An active National Space Agency plays a crucial role in the geo-strategic and geo-economic conditions of the country. Let’s make SUPARCO reinvigorate.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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views expressed are writer’s own.