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Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO)

  • Location
    Headquartered in Karachi; additional facilities in Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, and Peshawar [1]
  • Type
  • Facility Status

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Originally a research branch of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), but now a separate entity under the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Organization (SUPARCO) is Pakistan’s civilian space agency. 1 2 3[3]

Analysts credit SUPARCO with Pakistan’s first ventures into solid-fueled ballistic missiles – specifically, the modification of French sounding rockets to produce the short-range Hatf-1 and Hatf-2 missiles. 4

In June 1991, the Bush Administration imposed missile sanctions on SUPARCO under the Arms Export Control Act and the Export Administration Act of 1979. 5 In 1998, the Clinton Administration sanctioned SUPARCO for unspecified involvement in nuclear and missile technology. 6 During this time, SUPARCO engaged in numerous illicit materials transfers. In 1995, the United States warned European suppliers of SUPARCO interest in procuring missile-production products. 7 In 1996, Taiwan and Hong Kong seized numerous shipments of Ammonium perchlorate (AP), a solid-propellant component, bound for SUPARCO from North Korea and routed through China. 8 However, in 2010 President George W. Bush waived the 1991 and 1998 sanctions in order to facilitate post-September 11 cooperation with Pakistan. 9

SUPARCO’s recent benchmarks include plans to launch an indigenously developed satellite on 14 August 2011, and the development of Pakistan’s first satellite launch vehicle. 10 While the National Defence Complex (NDC) now develops the Hatf-2/Abdali, SUPARCO still operates the Sonmiani Beach Test Flight Range, which hosts test-flights for both the updated Hatf-2/Abdali missiles and the Ghaznavi and Shaheen missiles. 11


Ballistic missile
A delivery vehicle powered by a liquid or solid fueled rocket that primarily travels in a ballistic (free-fall) trajectory.  The flight of a ballistic missile includes three phases: 1) boost phase, where the rocket generates thrust to launch the missile into flight; 2) midcourse phase, where the missile coasts in an arc under the influence of gravity; and 3) terminal phase, in which the missile descends towards its target.  Ballistic missiles can be characterized by three key parameters - range, payload, and Circular Error Probable (CEP), or targeting precision.  Ballistic missiles are primarily intended for use against ground targets.
Punitive measures, for example economic in nature, implemented in response to a state's violation of its international obligations.
Space Launch Vehicle (SLV)
A rocket used to carry a payload, such as a satellite, from Earth into outer space. SLVs are of proliferation concern because their development requires a sophisticated understanding of the same technologies used in the development of long-range ballistic missiles. Some states (e.g., Iran), may have developed space launch vehicle programs in order to augment their ballistic missile capabilities.


  1. “Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission” SUPARCO, 24 January 2011, www.suparco.gov.pk.
  2. Sajid Chaudhry, “135% increase in funds for space programme likely,” Daily Times, 4 June 2009, http://dailytimes.com.pk.
  3. Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, A.Q. Khan and the Rise of Proliferation Networks – A Net Assessment, (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2007), p. 111; “Welcome to SUPARCO – The National Space Agency of Pakistan,” Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Commission, 8 February 2011, www.suparco.gov.pk.
  4. “Pakistan derives its first ‘Hatf’ missiles from foreign space rockets,” The Risk Report, October 1995, p. 5.
  5. “Imposition of Missile Proliferation Sanctions Against Chinese and Pakistani Entities,” 56 Federal Register 137 (25 June 1991), p. 32601.
  6. “India and Pakistan Sanctions and Other Measures,” 63 Federal Register 223 (19 November 1998), pp. 64322-64342.
  7. Abu Sabeen, “Purchase of ballistic missile equipment; Washington warns Islamabad,” Middle East Newsfile (Moneyclips), 27 May 1995 in LexisNexis Academic Universe, www.lexisnexis.com.
  8. “Taiwan confiscates chemicals bound for Pakistan,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 28 March 2006, in LexisNexis Academic Universe, www.lexisnexis.com; Michelle Chin and Glenn Schloss, “Customs raid uncovers huge haul of rocket fuel,” South China Morning Post, 18 September 1996, p. 1; in LexisNexis Academic Universe, www.lexisnexis.com; Glenn Schloss, “North Korean firm behind shipment,” South China Morning Post, 13 December 1996, p. 4, in LexisNexis Academic Universe, www.lexisnexis.com.
  9. “Presidential Determination No. 2001-28 of 22 September 2001: Waiver of Nuclear-Related Sanctions on India and Pakistan, Memorandum for the Secretary of State,” 66 Federal Register 191 (2 October 2001), p. 50095, “India and Pakistan: Lifting of Sanctions, Removal of Indian and Pakistani Entities, and Revision in License Review Policy,” 66 Federal Register 190 (1 October 2001), p. 50090, and Dianne E. Rennack, India and Pakistan: U.S. Economic Sanctions, CRS Report to Congress RS20995 (Washington, DC: The Library of Congress, 3 February 2003).
  10. Shamim-ur-Rahman, “Indigenously developed satellite to be launched by 2011,” Dawn, 13 April 2009, in LexisNexis Academic Universe, www.lexisnexis.com.
  11. “Hatf 2 (Abdali) (Pakistan), Offensive weapons,” Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems (Surrey), 11 August 2010; Dinshaw Mistry, Containing Missile Proliferation: Strategic Technology, Security Regimes, and International Cooperation in Arms Control (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003), p. 118; “Missile Flight Tests,” The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 31 January 2011, www.iiss.org.


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