South Asia satellite: How Pakistan opted out of SAARC satellite project

ISRO successfully launched the GSLV-F09 rocket carrying the GSAT-9 or the 'South Asia' satellite from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. Here's why Pakistan opted out of the project

The Indian Space Research Organisation  (ISRO) has successfully launched the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F09) rocket carrying the GSAT-9 or the ‘South Asia’ satellite from the second launch pad (SLP) at Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The satellite has been launched with the aim to provide different communication application in the Ku-band with a coverage in the South Asian region.

The South Asia satellite consists of 12 Ku-band transponders. Each country in the South-Asian region including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal will gain access to a transponder, which will be used by them to strengthen their own program and beam satellite link to their ground station. Pakistan, however, is not a part of this project as it opted out of it back in 2015.

Here’s how it all started.

The plan to develop ‘SAARC’ satellite was initiated in 2014 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed the office. He asked ISRO to develop a satellite which would be dedicated as a ‘gift’ to the neighbouring nations. “Today I ask you, the space community, to take up the challenge of developing a SAARC satellite that we can dedicate to our neighbourhood as a gift from India,” he had said while speaking at the launch of PSLV C-23 rocket.

The project was welcomed by all SAARC nations including Pakistan. According to a report by the India Today, the nation later asked to be a ‘partner’ in the project. It also asked to be a part of the ISRO’s technical team. However, both the requests were rejected by the Modi government as the project was India’s ‘gift’ to the SAARC nations.

Later, Pakistan demanded the satellite to be placed under the control of SAARC nations. This request too was rejected by India citing technical reasons. The nation also raised concerns if the satellite would enable India to steal sensitive information about the SAARC nations. However, these concerns were dismissed by India.

After a series of rejection, Pakistan withdrew from the project citing the need to focus on its national space program as the reason.

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It is interesting to note that, while India has an independent space program that has pioneered several historic feats in the fast (for example mission Mangalyaan and mission Chandrayaan-I), Pakistan’s space program is largely dependent on China. The nation also lacks its own launch vehicles.

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On the other hand, Nepal and Bangladesh don’t have their own satellites in the space yet. While Bangladesh would soon be entering into a partnership with the French multinational Thales, Nepal too in moving towards acquiring a communication satellite. Sri Lanka already has a fully functional communication satellite which it devloped with help from China.