India's recent Chandrayaan 3 success has triggered serious soul searching among Pakistanis. They are asking: Can we explore space? Do we have the basic technical knowhow? Are there any serious rocket scientists among Pakistanis? The answer to all three questions is absolutely YES. Pakistan's NESCOM (National Engineering and Science Commission) has developed, tested and supported deployment of several solid and liquid fueled multi-stage rockets for the nation's highly advanced missile program. In multiple test flights conducted over the years, these NESCOM missiles have traveled long distances through space at hypersonic speeds to deliver payloads to their designated targets.
From Rehbar to Shaheen:
Pakistan has certainly come a long way from the Rehbar series of rockets tested by SUPARCO in the 1960s. With some investment of time and money, the NESCOM rockets designed for the military can be repurposed
to launch satellites into space. But it has not been a priority for Pakistan. It will likely become a high priority when sending rockets into space starts to be seen as a matter of national security. After all, Pakistan has to prepare itself for the possibility of India using its kinetic capabilities to threaten Pakistan militarily by attacking its six satellites currently in space, including the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS).
|Pakistan's Shaheen 3 Launch. Source: ISPR
US-Soviet Space Race History:
In the early years of the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union started developing rockets for use in long-range missiles. But this race to build weapons later turned into a race to build rockets for space exploration. The same rocket that could carry a nuclear warhead could (and sometimes did) also launch spacecraft into orbit. This intense investment in engineering for missiles and rockets sparked off the Space Race, according to space historians at the Smithsonian
in Washington DC.
Pakistan's Shaheen 3:
Pakistan has successfully tested Shaheen III
ballistic missile. It is a medium-range ballistic missile with a maximum flight altitude of 692 kilometers. The Kármán line, the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space, is located at an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level. Shaheen 3 can strike targets up to 2,750 kilometers away. Its multi-stage solid-fuel technology can also be used to launch satellites
into space. It has been jointly developed by the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) and the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). It's the latest example of dual-use technology.
Shaheen-III is the latest in the series of the indigenously produced Shaheen-I and Shaheen-II, which had shorter ranges. Since the technology used in satellite launch vehicles (SLV) is virtually identical
to that used in a ballistic missile, Shaheen 3, the latest enhancement to the Shaheen series of missiles, is expected to boost Pakistan's space program
as well. The United States and the Soviet Union used their military missiles in the space race. More recently, several nations, including India
, have used the same rocket motors for both ballistic missiles and satellite launch vehicles (SLVs). Israel's Shavit SLV and India's SLV-3 are examples of it.
For its defense, Pakistan has non-kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) options, including: Jamming, Spoofing, Meaconing, Laser, High-powered microwave attacks. Pakistan has to prepare itself for the possibility of India using its kinetic capabilities to threaten Pakistan militarily by attacking its six satellites currently in space, including the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS). India has already demonstrated it in 2019 by destroying its own satellite with an anti-satellite missile system (ASAT). The debris from the destroyed satellite still circulates in orbit. More than 50 pieces of debris remain in space, posing a small but potential threat to other spacecraft.