The Journey of Pakistan’s ICUBE-Q to the Moon

As a quantum leap forward, Pakistan's developing space capabilities, the country has successfully launched its first lunar satellite, ICUBE-Q, into the lunar orbit.

As a quantum leap forward, Pakistan’s developing space capabilities, the country has successfully launched its first lunar satellite, ICUBE-Q, into the lunar orbit. This splendid achievement puts Pakistan in the coveted league of the six countries in the world to embark on lunar exploration. It also signals a new age of scientific and technical growth in Pakistan. It also shows that the future of satellite communication in Pakistan is on the horizon.

A Historic Achievement

On May 8, 2024, ICUBE-Q was successfully launched into lunar orbit, marking a defining moment in Pakistan’s space programme. The Chinese Chang’e 6 lunar mission aided a combined effort between Pakistan’s Institute of Space Technology (IST) and China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University, resulting in a historical milestone. The project highlights Pakistan and China’s expanding relationship in space exploration, emphasising their common goals and technological cooperation.

The deployment of ICUBE-Q is more than a symbolic success; it marks Pakistan’s admission into the exclusive club of states capable of launching and operating lunar missions. According to IST, the satellite is running optimally, with all subsystems meeting design requirements. With its launch on May 8th 2024, the satellite carried out rigorous in-orbit testing and was able to provide initial photographs on May 11th, the third day. Inspired by the success of ICUBE-Q, the IST is likely to launch another communication satellite on 30th May 2024, which will be a multipurpose communication satellite.

Technological Marvel and Strategic Implications

ICUBE-Q is a CubeSat weighing around 7 kilogrammes, with a one-megapixel sensor for surface-level research of the moon. Despite its small size and power limits, the satellite’s capabilities are significant. It functions in the unfamiliar lunar environment, where temperatures may drop to minus 100 degrees Celsius while transmitting photos at one kilobyte per second. This data transfer contains crucial information regarding crater sites, prospective water sources, and signs of ice on the lunar surface—data has enormous promise for worldwide scientific communities.

Dr. Khurram Khurshid, Director of the Department of Electrical and Computer Science at IST, emphasised the satellite’s importance in deep space missions. He stated that the ICUBE-Q’s surface-level analytical capabilities would give vital insights into the moon’s geology and resource availability, assisting future lunar missions and perhaps supporting long-term lunar colonisation and exploration.

A Collaborative Endeavor

The successful launch of ICUBE-Q demonstrates the collaborative attitude that underpins multinational space exploration cooperation. The Chinese Chang’e 6 mission, which permitted the launch of ICUBE-Q, seeks to settle on the moon’s far side, a zone permanently concealed from Earth. This mission is ready to gather and return samples, adding to our understanding of the moon’s composition and history.

The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad expressed excitement at this historic occasion, emphasising the significance of China-Pakistan cooperation in lunar exploration. This partnership is a strategic step, using China’s sophisticated space technology and Pakistan’s rising scientific competence to pursue common goals of space exploration.

Educational and Technological Impact

ICUBE-Q’s development and introduction have had a significant influence on Pakistani education and research sphere. IST, the country’s foremost high-end institution, pioneered the satellite project, which involved over 100 students and faculty members in the design, development, and qualification procedures. This practical experience provides vital training and knowledge to Pakistan’s next generation of scientists and engineers.

The project included a variety of disciplines, such as electrical engineering for the satellite’s electronics, aerospace engineering for control systems, computer science for software development, and mechanical/materials engineering for selecting appropriate materials to withstand the harsh environment on the moon. This multidisciplinary approach not only ensured the accomplishment of the mission but also promoted an environment of creativity and cooperation among students and professors.

Looking to the Future

The successful deployment of ICUBE-Q marks the beginning of Pakistan’s ambitious space programme. Adding to this momentum, Pakistan declares intentions to launch a new satellite, MM1, on May 30, 2024. The MM1 satellite seeks to improve Pakistan’s communication infrastructure, handle the expanding demands of the telecom sector, and facilitate the spread of 5G technology across the country. The MM1 satellite will be critical in constructing a sophisticated communication network, enabling increased availability and dependability of high-speed internet and seamless connection. This achievement is intended to strengthen Pakistan’s digital economy, encouraging developments in numerous areas such as education, healthcare, and e-commerce.

A New Era of Exploration

The successful deployment of ICUBE-Q and the planned launch of MM1 mark the beginning of a new era in Pakistan’s space exploration. Such milestones demonstrate the country’s dedication to using space technology for scientific, educational, and economic purposes. As Pakistan expands its capabilities in space, it is positioned to play a more significant role in the global space community.

The voyage of ICUBE-Q to the moon is one of ambition, invention, and partnership. It demonstrates what is possible when nations work together and explore the boundaries of space. For Pakistan, this is only the start of a long and hopeful path to becoming a vital participant in space exploration and technology.

Pakistan’s successful deployment of ICUBE-Q into lunar orbit is a historic milestone that sets the path for future space missions and technical developments. This achievement demonstrates the country’s developing skills and capacity to make substantial contributions to global space exploration endeavours. As Pakistan looks ahead, the successful launch of ICUBE-Q serves as a compelling reminder of what can be accomplished with vision, teamwork, and persistent dedication to scientific development.

Waleed Sami
Waleed Sami
Waleed Sami is a postgraduate student of Strategic Studies from the Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS), a prestigious school of the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Islamabad. Waleed has completed his bachelor's from the National Defence University Islamabad (NDU) in International Relations. Waleed is also a research intern at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and served as a junior researcher at the South Asia Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) and a research intern at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).