Using space technology on land

Published: June 11, 2015
The writer is a former chairman of the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). He served as director of the PAKSAT and BADR-1/B Satellite projects

The writer is a former chairman of the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). He served as director of the PAKSAT and BADR-1/B Satellite projects

In 15 to 20 years from now, the world will be aiming to send humans into deep space, orbiting Mars, and allowing for astronauts to physically reach an asteroid. This will be achieved through the innovation and development of new technologies which will pave the way for safer and more efficient transportation of humans to deep space and back. The world has planned to fully utilise the existing technologies and develop new ones to support critical elements for safety and health of astronauts. For this purpose, technology areas have been identified and goals have been set forth.

While the world is planning to set foot on Mars and asteroids, Pakistan is still struggling to make arrangements for safe travel at the terrestrial level. This is because we have failed to harness the transportation technologies that were developed over the last few decades. The economic corridor has, once again, afforded Pakistan the opportunity to focus on the development of technologies necessary to take up the challenges of energy, water, safety, efficient transportation, public health and education. But will this come to pass?

July 16, 1990 is an important date in the context of space exploration. Launching of the Muslim world’s first satellite, BADR-1, which was produced indigenously, demonstrated the potential of low-cost space hardware, software and techniques. Successful validation of design concepts and testing of technologies gave tremendous confidence to the mission objectives of the programme. BADR-1 was made possible by the vision and dedication of a few scientists and engineers passionately committed to a low-cost satellite demonstration. The satellite successfully performed digital store and forward experiments and bore many space qualified sub-systems, including those of power and communications. An improved version of the satellite along with a CCD camera, battery depth of discharge experiment and radiation dosimeter came in the form of a subsequent satellite BADR-2.

These experiments and innovations are essential elements for any space communication and earth observation programme. Unfortunately, the importance of these earlier achievements was not appreciated and efforts faded away with more emphasis on buying the complete systems rather than continuing on the path of in-house design and development. An attempt to put the indigenous design and development concept back on the rails met its fate when efforts for in-house design of many a sub-systems — including optical and high resolution synthetic aperture radar, data handling and communication sub-systems — critical for all time observation of the earth, were not rewarded.

Energy and communication are the key elements for economic recovery and so the actionable plan needs to primarily focus on relevant and adaptable technologies and the strengthening of applied research in these areas. Space technology experience gained through the launching of BADR satellites and subsequent efforts made for the development of earth observation satellites has definitely enabled the country to venture into expanding its technology base. Energy goals could be achieved by tapping natural resources of water, air and sun. Space technology could provide the information to identify potential sites for water storage, production of hydroelectric power and optimum route alignment.

Space power technologies are important because they cater to our direct national, on-ground needs. Besides the obvious applications of smart grid, terrestrial solar power systems could benefit from high-efficiency solar cells, advanced arrays, solar concentrators and thus advance the concept of green energy. In space, the major power sub-systems are based on the following: power generation, energy storage, power management and distribution. The best power generation system is the use of photovoltaic cells which ensures independence and green energy free from transmission problems.

Thus solar power technologies that focus on photovoltaic cells and associated mechanical and structural technologies for solar arrays become the foundational element for future industrial growth. Solar power generation is very closely linked with the energy storage capabilities. Batteries are an obvious means of energy storage and space systems have played a pioneering role in developing energy storage devices which have fulfilled other national needs. Over the last couple of decades, the life of energy storage devices used onboard satellites has increased from around five years to almost 20 years. These batteries operate in the hostile environments of space with the highest degree of reliability. On ground, batteries have become indispensable for a growing number of uses such as for communication — handsets, UAVs (for surveillance aerial coverage of disaster zones), back-up power systems and hybrid vehicles. Thus, the number-one priority for research and development by the public and private sectors are the batteries for energy storage and photovoltaic production for solar energy conversion.

This is a good time to rearrange our priorities and set our sights on national goals. Dependence on foreign expertise and other imported technologies needs to be curtailed and limited to the areas where it can help develop an indigenous resource or expertise. Space technology is the best area where investment can be fully appreciated and utilised by the expertise available within the country. I feel this is an opportunity to focus on space technology development and the civil space applications programme which will be a great help for the future. The programmes could be developed to include identification of sites for water reservoirs, for generation of hydroelectricity, wind and solar power generation, road alignment and route planning, land-use especially for location of future cities/towns and for identification of minerals. The space technology programme could include surveillance and security of the entire region. A low-flying drone programme for monitoring the entire region could be ably supported by small satellites and strategically located ground network.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Malatesh
    Jun 11, 2015 - 2:18AM

    Space technology?? What about Kashmir?Recommend

  • Faizan Maqbool
    Jun 11, 2015 - 6:40AM

    @Malatesh: And what about that fatwa issued by some Arab cleric prohibiting travel to Mars for Muslims as they are unnecessarily putting their lives at risk and this is forbidden in Islam ?!!Recommend

  • Amit Lunia
    Jun 11, 2015 - 1:50PM

    Very true, predictions of flood , sea storms, etc, mapping of land terrain etc are all benefits which reach common men , may be Pakistan can use Chinese or European launch vehicles to launch its own satellites initially and then can send larger telecommunications oneRecommend

  • mayuresh
    Jun 11, 2015 - 3:08PM

    I started reading when I saw Dr. in front of the person;s name and his qualifications. I stopped reading after the line “Launching of the Muslim world’s first satellite, BADR-1” Cannt get what this has to do with muslim world. Recommend

  • cautious
    Jun 11, 2015 - 6:53PM

    What’s a Muslim Satellite? Ridiculous concept which implies that there are Christan, Hindu and Atheist Satellites. Satellites are a product of science not religion.Recommend

  • AK
    Jun 12, 2015 - 4:22AM

    Mayuresh: What it means is the Satellite orbits with an unkempt beard, stops in orbit 5 times a day, creates a nuisance for other satellites and tries to convert other satellites.Recommend

  • Abdul majid
    Jun 12, 2015 - 5:55AM

    It is good to be critical but one expects the readers to approach the subject with a view to learn and contribute for the good of general readership. Let us not be deterred, an unattractive word in your opinion should not stop you from contributing in a positive manner.Recommend

  • Abdul majid
    Jun 12, 2015 - 6:04AM

    The Creator encourages you to to explore the Heavens and the Earth and whatever lies within, as these are for the good of Humanity. @Faizan Maqbool: Recommend

  • Abdul majid
    Jun 12, 2015 - 6:18AM

    It was never a Muslim satellite, it was intended to encourage over third of the world population to make serious effort towards the development and harnessing of space technology as they are blessed with vast natural resources. Don’t be over cautious to the point of negativity as the world will become poorer despite the vast resources at the disposal.@cautious: Recommend

  • Naren
    Jun 12, 2015 - 12:26PM

    “Launching of the Muslim world’s first satellite, BADR-1, which was produced indigenously, demonstrated the potential of low-cost space hardware, software and techniques. ”

    Mr. Author, I heard that this satellite was manufactured and sent in to the space by China. Pakistan only paid for it. How much true this claim is? Recommend

  • Afzal
    Jun 12, 2015 - 1:27PM

    One should not be surprised that you guys keep dreaming about Pak-China transactions. China does share things with Pakistan as does Pakistan and what exactly is your problem. The author has given you the first hand information while you fail to site your source.

    What about most of the space tech in India…I mean where did you get it from? Who installed your Sat-launching facility or did you reinvent all this you are showcasing?
    Sorry if I have caught you stealing !!

    You may be amused some cartoons published by New York Times in relation to Indian Mar’ s probe. Just do not look at the cartoons but try to understand the message.Recommend

  • Afzal
    Jun 12, 2015 - 1:37PM

    Very simple to understand actually!
    It simply means that this was first time that a Muslim country made this successful attempt
    It should be even easier to understand if you have read the recent Hindu claims that airplane was first invented by Ancient India !!Recommend

  • Abdul Majid
    Jun 13, 2015 - 3:33PM

    You better believe what you see in black and white. Do not believe in hearsay.the satellite was actually designed and built ivy Pakistanis and in Pakistan..@Naren: Recommend

  • Hasan Madni
    Jun 14, 2015 - 12:05PM

    Vision without action is a day mare and action without vision is a nightmare. Badr-1 was an action with vision to do something never done before and have no prior experience. Vision if three individuals was put into action, who to reward is those who knowing all the mess continued their journey till provided.

    A Micro satellite worked in space conceived and built locally, through inherited conspiracies played their role satellite has only one cheating element that was a point scoring by one of the extreme conspiring engineering now heading satellite program through again lots of computation against own people and organization that was communication experiment. Rest was all what was said and meant for. Salute to those who tolerated all kinds if mistreatment beside their ice breaking work. Recommend

  • Abdul Majid
    Jun 15, 2015 - 11:42AM

    Hasan Madni seem to appreciated the efforts of the few who were only interested in achieving something unique. They were not worried about or had no time to think about point scoring etc. Unfortunately there were as always there are people who neither are capable or have the capacity to to dedicate themselves selflessly, hence resort to point scoring or negating the efforts of the few dedicated to the cause. One such occasion was the delay in launch of BADR-1, when the Chinese encountered a last minute glitch in the Long March vehicle only a few hours before launch. Back home it was rumoured that the delay had been caused due to some problem with the satellite. Fortunately the satellite was orbited and performed in a manner it was designed.
    I think we are badly missing the work ethics practices. Either we try to steal the efforts by trying to discredit the performers or when the people are in authority negative publicity is launched to distort the real picture. We need to develop a code of Ethics at the organisational as well as national level.@Hasan Madni: Recommend

  • Mustafa Ahsan
    Jun 15, 2015 - 7:15PM

    until and unless there is a will to serve and contribute for the country with vision and sincerity and to give confidence to the people to fight against all kinds of evils internal and external. Nation shall remain in a chaotic situation and media shall remain propagating minor issues rather guiding the nation for future challenges.
    space let the individual to think globally and act locally. all early middle ages scientific knowledge was based on astronomy a space that gave foundation to entire spectrum if physical laws. Thus space education at school level helps to enhance thinking process. Space sciences need to be brought to school level and all similar tech need to be harnessed to save the waste and to let those expert decide their course if actions.
    R&D in tech first be evaluated from all aspects and then brought to level of maturity rather dumping half way. Give space to space application and country progress. Eliminate all mindset from science and technology those with superficial knowledge happen to cheat the entire nation. Recommend

  • arif majid
    Jun 16, 2015 - 1:24AM

    Aerospace and other technolgies are very rewarding and critical for nation …….

    involvement of young talent shall help it to be low cost as well as innovative ……..

    all public sector org shall be made bound to incorporate the youth in the high tech projects as is very much evident in advance nations in science and tech………..

    there is a need to device mechanism to facilitate colleges, universitites to be part of such projects …………. why to go abroad for high tech education when we have many org where such education and experts are in plenty…..why they keep everything secret, or closed doors .simply to hide their shortcomings and corruption’ ; somehting is fishy anyway ……Recommend

  • Abdul Majid
    Jun 16, 2015 - 10:47AM

    @arif majid:
    Space technology has fully captured the minds of the young and not so young through, the smart phones, video games and everything around telecommunications. You get to see the surfaces of the Mars and the moons of the extraterrestrial planets with an aw inspiring details. This involves computer software and the systems produced through extensive use of computer based designs. This is such anarea which can bring about revolution. Let us focus on the high schools, colleges and universities to create facilities for involving these youth for the betterment of their future and the country. They need to be made competitive and encouraged to undertake development work in their own country.

    Laptop distribution scheme could serve as a good starting point, if the same are distributed to selected centers/colleges/universities. committed to undertake software development for various applications and won through a nationwide competition. The centers would then select their students for the use of such facilities including laptops.This would help develop institutions and bring an element of transparency as well.Recommend

  • Abdullah Khan
    Jun 18, 2015 - 5:04PM

    A timely and well-articulated piece. The honourable Chairman could have also mentioned the utilisation of space-based resources in the domain of national security. While we are at war against terrorism, the integration of space-based and terrestrial assets could help armed forces and law-enforcement agencies monitor the movement of terrorists. Thanks.Recommend

  • Abdul Majid
    Jun 20, 2015 - 12:07AM

    @Abdullah Khan: The last paragraph of the article mentions the security issue in the context of the corridor. The surveillance system could consist of low flying drones powered by solar energy thus providing long life and endurance with the added advantage of quiet presence. These drones can be really very small and flown over the trouble spots in the urban as well as rural areas. You only need to back it up with an efficient force to nab the terrorists. This is the reason I propose investment in the solar cell development in house. The capability will further development of small satellites. The satellite based network will ensure countrywide coverage.Recommend

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