Badr-1, the first Pakistani satellite

Badr-1, meaning Full Moon-1 in Urdu, is the first Pakistani satellite. The Badr-1 was Pakistan’s first indigenously developed and manufactured digital communications and experimental artificial satellite. The spacecraft was launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by China on July 16, 1990. The launch ushered new military, technological, and scientific developments in Pakistan and also provided data on radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere.

Originally planned to be launched from the United States of America in 1986, the Challenger disaster (on January 28, 1986, the NASA shuttle orbiter undertaking mission STS-51-L and the tenth flight of Space Shuttle Challenger, OV-99, broke apart seventy-three seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members, which consisted of five NASA astronauts, one payload specialist, and a civilian school teacher) furthered delayed the launch of Badr-1, the first Pakistani satellite. After the People’s Republic of China offered Pakistan to use its facility, the Badr-1 was finally launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XLSC) in 1990 on Long March 2E (LM2E), a Chinese orbital carrier rocket from the Long March 2 family.

The Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission

The Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) is the space agency of the Government of Pakistan, responsible for the nation’s public and civil space program, and for aeronautics and aerospace research. Its mission statement and objective is to conduct peaceful research in space technology and promote the technology for socio-economic uplift of the country. Established in its modern form on September 16, 1961 by an executive order of President of Pakistan, it is headquartered in Karachi, Sindh Province of Pakistan.

Part of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) of Pakistan Armed Forces, which is currently headquartered at the Chakalala Military District under the control of the PAF, the space program recorded number of pioneering accomplishments in space flight during the initial years of its establishment. Since its creation in 1961, the SUPARCO has achieved numerous milestones, including the first successful spaceflight of country’s first weather expendable launch rocket, Rehbar-I. The country’s first satellite, Badr-I, was built by the SUPARCO and launched by the People’s Republic of China in 1990.

However, during the meantime, the space program suffered many setbacks, difficulties, and problems that partly slowed the progress of the space program. The bureaucratic influence and politicisation further lagged the space program and many projects were cancelled by the superior authorities. Over the years, SUPARCO expanded and has several well expanded installations all over the country as assets, and cooperates in peaceful use of space technology with the international community as a part of several bilateral and multilateral agreements.

Badr-1, the first Pakistani satellite

The SUPARCO negotiated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the launch of the satellite and approval required from the United States Government for the launch of the Badr-1. The Air Force Strategic Command decided to fly the satellite by using one of its C-130 aircraft in 1986 to Florida, United States of America. The Delta 3000 was selected by NASA’s administration as its launch vehicle.

The Badr-1 was never shipped to United States of America and its launch was delayed for until next four years. As aftermath of the Challenger disaster in 1986, the United States Government and NASA had halt all the flights of the rockets carrying spacecraft and satellite payloads until the investigations were thoroughly completed. The satellite was stored at the Instrumentation Laboratories (IL), and SUPARCO began to negotiate with other Space Powers. In 1990, representatives of the Chinese government offered Government of Pakistan to launch the satellite on one of its Long March Rockets and its facility.

The Chinese Government used a Long March 2E, a three-stage orbital carrier rocket designed to commercial communications satellites, to launch Badr-1, the first Pakistani satellite. On July 16, 1990, Badr-1, the first Pakistani satellite was launched as a secondary payload on a Long March 2E rocket from Area No. 2 at XSLC. The spacecraft circled the Earth every ninety-six minutes, passing over Pakistan for fifteen minutes three to four times a day. With the successful development and launch of the Badr-1, Pakistan became the first Muslim country, and the second South Asian country after India, to place a satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Badr-1, the first Pakistani satellite’s legal status

What was Badr-1, the first Pakistani satellite’s legal status? Was it a space object? The term Object in reference to outer space was first used in 1961 in General Assembly Resolution 1721 (XVI) titled International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space to describe any object launched by States into outer space. Professor Bin Cheng, a world authority on International Air and Space Law, has noted that members of the COPUOS during negotiations over the space treaties treated spacecraft and space vehicles as synonymous terms. The Space Object can be considered as the “conventional launcher (ELV)”, the “reusable launcher (RLV)”, the “satellite”, the “orbital station”, the “probe”, the “impactor”, the “space telescope”, the “International Space Station (ISS)”… As Professors Diederiks-Verschoor and Kopal wrote in An Introduction to Space Law, the term space object “is indeed the commonly used expression, but it must always be borne in mind that its exact meaning is still not quite clear”.

An object is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “A material thing that can be seen and touched”. The five Onusian treaties don’t use the term satellite, instead opting for “object launched into outer space” in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty or “space object” in the 1972 Liability Convention and the 1976 Registration Convention. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty doesn’t really provide a definition for “object launched into outer space” other than an indication in Article VIII that it includes the “component parts” of the “object launched into outer space”. To add to the mix, Article V of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty uses the term “space vehicle” and the 1968 Rescue Agreement (which is essentially an elaboration of Article V of the OST) uses the term “spacecraft”. A good definition is given by Professor Hobe who write that a “space object is a human made object launched into outer space intended to be used in (as opposed to merely transit through) outer space”.

Let’s remember that “A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose”, Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969. In addition, “Recourse may be had to supplementary means of interpretation, including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion, in order to confirm the meaning resulting from the application of article 31, or to determine the meaning when the interpretation according to article 31: (a) leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure; or (b) leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable”, Article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969.

Let’s recall that a space object causing damage triggers international third-party liability under the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (entered into force in September 1972). Article I (d) of which enounces that “the term space object includes component parts of a space object as well as its launch vehicle and parts thereof”. Its Article II adds that “A launching State shall be absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space object on the surface of the Earth or to aircraft in flight”.

A space object requires, thanks to the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (entered into force in September 1976), registration. Article II of which states that “When a space object is launched into Earth orbit or beyond, the launching State shall register the space object by means of an entry in an appropriate registry which it shall maintain. Each launching State shall inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the establishment of such a registry”.

Finally, the term space object effectively triggers application of much of both the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (entered into force in October 1967) and the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (entered into force in December 1968). Article VII of the first declares that “Each State Party to the Treaty that launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and each State Party from whose territory or facility an object is launched, is internationally liable for damage to another State Party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air space or in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies”.

Article 5 of the latter states that “1. Each Contracting Party which receives information or discovers that a space object or its component parts has returned to Earth in territory under its jurisdiction or on the high seas or in any other place not under the jurisdiction of any State, shall notify the launching authority and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. 2. Each Contracting Party having jurisdiction over the territory on which a space object or its component parts has been discovered shall, upon the request of the launching authority and with assistance from that authority if requested, take such steps as it finds practicable to recover the object or component parts. 3. Upon request of the launching authority, objects launched into outer space or their component parts found beyond the territorial limits of the launching authority shall be returned to or held at the disposal of representatives of the launching authority, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return”.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty doesn’t really provide a definition for “object launched into outer space” other than an indication in Article VIII that it includes the “component parts” of the “object launched into outer space”. It states that “A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body. Ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to the Earth. Such objects or component parts found beyond the limits of the State Party to the Treaty on whose registry they are carried shall be returned to that State Party, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return”. We’ll conclude with the definition given by Professor Hobe who wrote that a “space object is a human made object launched into outer space intended to be used in (as opposed to merely transit through) outer space”.

As a result, Badr-1, the first Pakistani, satellite was a space object.

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