India's Chandrayaan 3 Success: Can Pakistanis Explore Space?

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 and Israel, 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. 
Space Defense: 
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. 

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Comment by Riaz Haq on September 3, 2023 at 8:22am

Back in the 1970s, Indian analysts argued that Pakistan could not develop nuclear weapons or missiles to deliver such weapons. Now I am hearing similar arguments from my Indian friends as to why Pakistanis can not compete in space.

Please read this report by a Delhi-based Indian think tank. Yogesh Joshi, the author of this report, is just as guilty of anti-Pakistan biases as the Indian intelligence agencies he criticizes:

Hubris, Biases, and Overlearning: A Historical Analysis of How India Missed Pakistan’s Nuclear Coup


"Intelligence agencies are prone to exaggerate an adversary’s capabilities. Indian intelligence in the mid-1970s, meanwhile, severely underestimated Pakistan’s nuclear cunning. For a crucial part of those years, India could not identify AQ Khan’s clandestine nuclear activities to acquire Uranium enrichment technology. This brief names three reasons: hubris, biases, and overlearning from one’s experiences. For New Delhi, this is as much a part of Khan’s legacy as that of the nuclearisation of the subcontinent that Khan ultimately unraveled"

Comment by Ameer Alam on September 4, 2023 at 9:35pm

Solid fuel launch vehicles have a much lower specific impulse when compared to a liquid fuel vehicles. However solid rockets are commonly used as strap-on booster to the main engine. A liquid fuel engine can be throttled and restarted in flight. There are many similarities between the basics of launch vehicle and missiles but there are many differences too.

Even launching a remote sensing payload into sun synchronous orbit of 600 km would require a two stage vehicle (N2O4/UDMH) with strap-on boosters to get around 7.5 km/sec. Each stage needing 250,000 lbs and 10,000 lbs of thrust plus strap-on boosters. On the other hand you can create an Indian mickey-mouse system like PSLV with 4-stage under-powered engines. All Indian rockets are under powered and that is why they needed multiple orbital boosts (delta-Vs) to get to the moon.

Pakistan Army decided in 70s to give up the launch vehicle and satellites programs. All my classmates who went to University of Surrey for training from SUPARCO later moved over to commercial companies. As far as reaching 100 km orbits SUPARCO already achieved that early in 60s when they launched sounding rockets to gather sub-orbital weather data for NASA.

Ameer Alam

Boeing Co

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 13, 2023 at 7:33am

Vijainder K Thakur
How Russia Could Well Be Defeated

Ukraine's repeated attacks on Russian Black Sea fleet warships have inflicted a lot of pain on Russia, but the attacks are not going to help Ukraine win the war in any conceivable manner. Fleet warships are not participating in the war in any substantial way, other than some small warships occasionally launching cruise missile attacks against Ukraine.

The Ukrainian attacks are aimed at weakening Russia, which is not Ukraine's war aim in the conflict. Ukraine's war aim is to forcibly seize back its territories that have switched allegiance to Russia. So why is Ukraine repeatedly striking Russian air and naval assets in Crimea instead of focusing on its three months old counteroffensive which, despite huge personnel losses, has made little progress.

Weakening Russia is a US/NATO war aim and make no mistakes; indeed, the US & NATO are waging a low intensity war aimed at weakening Russia, particularly the Russian grip on the Black Sea and its influence in the region. Overly cautious Russia has chosen to turn a Nelson eye towards the US & NATO war being waged against it.

The attacks on Crimea by aerial and maritime drones, cruise missiles and saboteurs are being orchestrated by US/NATO personnel - weapon system specialists and data analysts - using US/NATO ISR, communication and navigation assets. In any given operation, more US/NATO personnel are involved than Ukrainian personnel.

The large number of US/NATO ISR assets committed to the attacks on Russian Naval bases in Crimea is testimony to the fact that the US and NATO are waging an altogether separate war on the side of the Ukraine conflict. A war that doesn't help Ukraine regain its lost territory. A war that is militarily weakening Russia.

If Russia doesn't challenge the US and NATO now it may not be in a position to do so a few months from now. The attacks on Russian Naval and air bases are not just likely to persist, they are likely to intensify and get more deadly. The US is on the verge of supplying ATACMS to Ukraine. It may well have supplied them already. Same could be true of the German Taurus missile.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, speaking in the context of the ATACMS supply on ABC, clearly stated, "In terms of their targeting decisions, it's their decision, not ours." He was clearly overstepping a Russian red line.

How many more warships of the Black Sea fleet does Russia want to lose to US/NATO attacks? The fact is, once the Russian Black Sea fleet is debilitated, the next logical step for the US would be to move a carrier group into the Black Sea. Turkey's desire and ability to stop the US, Turkey's NATO ally, from moving a carrier group into the Black Sea, is questionable.

Once a US carrier group moves into the Black Sea, Ukrainians special forces, who currently get cluster bombed into oblivion in their high-speed boats when they make surreptitious attempts to beach in Crimea at night, will be able to arrive unscathed in Crimea in beachwear on sailboats during the day! A Russian defeat would be inevitable. It will be a grind to the last Ukrainian. It will take time. But it will be inevitable.

Russia's only option to prevent defeat would be to fight NATO by shooting down US/NATO ISR assets and if necessary, attacking their low earth surveillance and communication satellites. As I have said before, without the ISR assets and communication network, US forces cannot fight even Mexican drug lords.

So the big question for Russia is - Why not be prepared to fight NATO now when it still has its Black Sea fleet intact? The fact is Russian readiness to fight NATO is likely to bring peace, not war, because the US and NATO, even as they prepare for war, have no stomach for it. Russian readiness to fight US and NATO will bring peace a lot faster than continued Russian diffidence.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 16, 2023 at 7:17pm

Cheaper space travel technology
Anand Kumar Published November 11, 2013

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a state-owned agency, is spending less than $75 million on the mission; a similar venture, launched by America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) would be at least six times more expensive.

The ISRO was able to launch the mission in less than 18 months, whereas Nasa or some other international agency would need more than three years to launch such a project.

More importantly, the Mangalyaan mission has been developed indigenously by Indian space technologists and engineers, and was launched by ISRO’s polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV) — its warhorse for launching satellites and other objects into space.

The Indian space agency was keen to launch the orbiter on its geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV), instead of the under-powered PSLV. However, the GSLV has had a lot of problems since its launch in 2001. Of the seven launches, only two have succeeded. The latest attempt, in August, also ended in failure following the detection of a leakage.

In fact, the ISRO has suffered several setbacks in recent years following the failure of the GSLV to take off. It has also led to bitter recriminations, with former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair accusing the incumbent chairman, K Radhakrishnan, of pursuing the Mars mission to cover-up the agency’s failure on the GSLV front.

Nair recently dubbed the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) as ‘useless’ and ‘a showpiece event’. According to him, the space agency should have utilised the $75 million on getting the GSLV up and about, which would have ensured it good returns.

“Instead of concentrating on practical missions, we are spending money to prove nothing,” says Nair. “It is claimed that the Mars mission will prove new technologies. As a person familiar with these technologies, I believe that there is no new technology involved.”

THE GSLV was developed by the ISRO to enable it to launch large satellites into geosynchronous orbits around the earth. And while the PSLV has been a huge success, it can only launch smaller satellites.

The PSLV has so far launched more than 60 satellites and spacecraft, including 35 foreign ones. It is capable of launching 1,600kg satellites into the 620km, sun-synchronous polar orbit, and 1,050kg satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The GSLV would have given India the capability to launch heavier satellites in the 2,000-plus kilogramme category into geosynchronous orbit, besides launching interplanetary (or even lunar) spacecraft.

At present, it has to depend on other international space agencies for launching such satellites. The fate of India’s ambitious lunar mission, the Chandrayaan 2, depends on the successful launch of the GSLV.

The agency has been working on an indigenous cryogenic engine for the GSLV, but teething problems have persisted for years. The ISRO now plans to launch the GSLV next month.

Working on a shoe-string budget of about $1 billion a year, the Indian space agency has been forced to cut costs while developing new technologies. In the past, the agency had taken help from the former Soviet Union (and since the break-up of the USSR, with Russia). However, Russia has its own problems relating to the launch of spacecraft.

The ISRO is now increasingly seeking cooperation with Nasa. The American space agency is launching another Mars orbiter — the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN) — later this month.

The two spacecraft, Mangalyaan and MAVEN, will be collaborating during their sojourn around the red planet. Nasa will also extend communication and tracking services to the ISRO through its deep space network.

While India launched its space exploration project in the 1960s, much of it was focused on launching satellites, including those meant for communications, weather forecasting and agricultural purposes. Chandrayaan, its maiden unmanned lunar mission probe, was launched in 2008 to explore the moon.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 16, 2023 at 8:32pm

“India's rockets are not powerful enough to send spacecraft directly to the Moon. Instead, they use a circuitous route that takes advantage of earth's gravity. The spacecraft is first placed in a geosynchronous transfer orbit by the GSLV Mark3 or LVM 3, which has a 4 ton lifting capacity. Once the spacecraft reaches its apogee (farthest point from earth), it is given a final burst of acceleration that will slingshot it into the Moon's orbit,” added Linganna.'s%20rockets%20are%20not%20powerful,a%204%20ton%20lifting%20capacity.

Come July 14, India's lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, will take off on its journey to the moon. The mission is similar to its predecessor, Chandrayaan-2, but without an orbiter. The propulsion module of the spacecraft will carry the lander and rover configuration to a 100km lunar orbit. It will also behave like a communications relay satellite and carry a payload called Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) to study the earth from a lunar orbit.

But why would the spacecraft take more than a month to reach the moon?

“The journey to the moon is very difficult. It requires precise calculations, careful planning, and a deep understanding of space physics. The moon's orbit around the earth is elliptical, which means that its distance from the earth varies. At its closest point, the moon is 363,104km from earth. At its farthest point, it is 405,696km away. The average distance between the earth and the moon is 384,400km. Scientists have to take all of this into account when planning trips to the moon. The Chandrayaan-2 mission took about six weeks to reach the moon. It followed a cautious trajectory to ensure a safe landing. The journey involved a series of braking manoeuvres to slow the spacecraft's descent,” explained aerospace and space expert Girish Linganna.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission had used a series of maneuvers to increase its speed and escape earth's gravity. These earth orbit-raising maneuvers were done by firing the spacecraft's engines to increase its velocity. The maneuvers gradually increased the spacecraft's distance from earth until it was able to escape the gravitational pull. After escaping earth's gravity, Chandrayaan-2 entered a lunar orbit. It then began a series of lunar orbit insertion (LOI) maneuvers to descend to the moon's surface. They were done by firing the spacecraft's engines to decrease its velocity. The maneuvers gradually decreased the spacecraft's altitude until it was close enough to the moon's surface to land.

The final maneuver was called the landing burn. This was a short and powerful burn that slowed the spacecraft down enough to allow it to land safely on the moon. The landing burn was successful, and Chandrayaan-2 landed on the moon on September 7, 2019. However, the lander Vikram crash-landed on the moon's surface, and the rover Pragyan was unable to deploy.

“Chandrayaan-3 is expected to reach the moon by the end of August if it launches on July 14. The spacecraft will take a similar approach to the moon as its predecessor, Chandrayaan-2. The journey could take 45-48 days, and the spacecraft could reach the moon by August 23 or 24,” said Linganna.

If one has to go back in history, the Apollo 8 mission was the fastest journey to the moon, taking 69 hours and 8 minutes. Every mission after Apollo 8 took at least 74 hours to reach the moon. The Apollo 17 mission was the last mission to land on the moon, taking 86 hours and 14 minutes. The USSR's Luna-2 craft took just 34 hours to reach the moon in 1959.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 28, 2023 at 9:53pm

Top Chinese Scientist Questions India’s Claim to Reaching Moon’s South Pole | Time

Ouyang Ziyuan, lauded as the father of China’s lunar exploration program, told the Chinese-language Science Times newspaper that the Chandrayaan-3 landing site, at 69 degrees south latitude, was nowhere close to the pole, defined as between 88.5 and 90 degrees.

On Earth, 69 degrees south would be within the Antarctic Circle, but the lunar version of the circle is much closer to the pole.

“It’s wrong!” he said of claims for an Indian polar landing. “The landing site of Chandrayaan-3 is not at the lunar south pole, not in the lunar south pole region, nor is it near the lunar south pole region.”

The Chandrayaan-3 was 619 kilometers (385 miles) distant from the polar region, Ouyang said.

India’s space agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

After the Chandrayaan-3 landing, the Communist Party’s Global Times quoted Pang Zhihao, a Beijing-based senior space expert, as saying that China had much better technology.

China’s space program “has been capable of sending orbiters and landers directly into Earth-Moon transfer orbit since the launch of Chang’e-2 in 2010, a maneuver that India has yet to deliver given the limited capacity of its launch vehicles,” the newspaper said. “The engine that China used is also far more advanced.”

Still, the Chandrayaan-3 went much farther south than any other spacecraft. Russia’s attempt to land a spacecraft near the lunar south pole ended in failure last month when it crashed into the moon.

China’s Chang’e 4, the first to land on the far side of the moon in 2019, touched down 45 degrees south. An uncrewed NASA probe, Surveyor 7, reached the moon at about 41 degrees south in 1968.

Getting close to the lunar south pole is important not just for bragging rights. Scientists think the region may have ice reserves that could potentially be valuable for long-term stays.


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