• March 28, 2019, 11:05 am

NEWS: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday announced that India has entered an elite league of space power nations with its successful test of an anti-satellite missile (ASAT).“Mission Shakti was a resounding success,India has become the fourth country in the world to become a space power which means that it now has the capability to take out an enemy satellite in space,the indigenously-built missile took out a target Indian satellite in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) giving the nation a decisive edge over any enemy activity in space” ,a clearly elated PM said.


Mission Shakti

This is about launching a ground based rocket to meet the trajectory of an low earth orbit satellite and destroy it with it’s kinetic kill.


How many countries before India successfully tested ASAT?

Three – the US, Russia and China and israel is on its way. Soviet Union conducted the first successful ASAT test in February 1970. Since then USSR/Russia have tested the ASAT numerous times with the last three reported in 2018.The US was the second country to achieve an ASAT success The US achieved the feat as late as 1985 when a modified F-15 Eagle vertically went upwards to launch an ASAT that intercepted a target satellite.


China’s test in India’s vicinity

Less than 500 kilometres to the east as from India’s border with China at Arunachal Pradesh is Xichang. It was from here in 2007 that Beijing conducted its first successful ASAT test. China is believed to be preparing for more ASAT tests that can target satellites deep in space.This event brought back the long dropped space war race that begun during cold war.Following China, Russia,U.S and India started militarisation of space


What is a Low Earth Orbit?

The LEO is the lowest in terms of altitude classification of orbits. An LEO is below 2,000 km. Above the LEO is Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), which is a geocentric orbit that begins from 2,000 km above the Earth to approximately 20,650 kilometres.Above the MEO is Geosynchronous orbit (GSO) which can be upto an altitude of 35,786 km.

All the spy satellites use LEO as the preferred orbit because it provides the closest visual of the Earth’s surface and allows a satellite to complete one revolution of the planet in about 90 minutes.Also LEO is the home for the International Space Station and other communication satellites


Are ASATs a threat to space?

The Kessler syndrome , proposed by the NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978, is a scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions, that the distribution of debris in orbit could render space activities and the use of satellites in specific orbital ranges impractical for many generations.


In other words , space debris created by destroyed satellites, say a bolt or nut could travel at 18,000 miles per hour to hit another satellite and start a chain reaction which would render us to the stone ages. Simple visualistic imagination as in the movie Gravity which actually showed how dangerous space debris can be.


International Convention:

The Outer Space Treaty, formally the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, is a treaty that forms the basis of international space law. The treaty was opened for signature in the United States, and the Soviet Union on 1967, and entered into force. As of February 2019, 108 countries are parties to the treaty , including India.

This treaty bans weaponization of space but there is a grey area which allows one to protect their space assets.


What India told the world community?

Though the message was clear to all of India’s adversaries, PM Modi assured the global community that the technology will not be used “against anyone”.“This (technology) is to strengthen the defence of a fast-growing India. This test does not violate any international law or treaty. We are against arms race in space,” the PM stressed, adding, “Our objective is to ensure the security of the 130 crore people of our country. Thus a powerful India is necessary for peace. We do not intend to create an atmosphere of war.”


Reality Check

IDSA member and other government officials has pointed it to be a deterrent against China which clearly portrays that arms race is indeed happening in space. But to dwell deeper , space has always been militarised through spy sats and other mechanisms but this is an offensive capability brings in a new arms race.

India’s claim of debris decaying back to earth from LEO is also a threat as the kinetic energy of a falling debris will likely be acting as a bomb in a speed of 18000 miles per hour velocity.


And speaking of space war , this is a serious threat as “space debris” can wipe out all our satellites and send us to dark ages with no navigation or weather warning or communications_Mutual self assured destruction, exactly same as in the nuclear war. It is a moment to rethink and dwell deeper rather than repeating historical mistakes.Space should be used for betterment of our planet and not for politics and quarrels