On 27th March, India’s Defense Research and Development Organization fired a missile during an anti-satellite missile test that destroyed a satellite in space. India’s destruction of one of its satellites has been labelled a “terrible thing” by the head of NASA.
NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine said the missile test created 400 pieces of orbital debris and posed a threat to astronauts onboard the International space station (ISS).
Jim Bridenstine was addressing at a live-streamed Town Hall gathering of NASA employees on Monday, five days after India shot down a low-orbiting satellite in a missile launch that it says elevated the country to the elite tier of space powers.
The Indian satellite was destroyed at a relatively low altitude of 180 miles (300km), well below the ISS and most satellites in orbit.
Bridenstine said “24 pieces are going above the apogee of the International Space Station. That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station. That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight. It’s unacceptable and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is.”
The US military tracks objects in space to predict the collision risk for the ISS and for satellites. They are tracking 23,000 objects larger than 10cm. That includes about 10,000 pieces of space debris, of which nearly 3,000 were created by a single event: a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, 530 miles above the surface.
As a result of the Indian test, the risk of collision with the ISS has increased by 44% over 10 days, Bridenstine said.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that the test called Mission Shakti had been carried out in the lower atmosphere. “Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks,” India’s ministry of external affairs said.
PM Narendra Modi even addressed the nation to declare India as a ‘Spacepower’.
24 pieces from India’ anti-satellite test sounds like a small number compared to 3,000 created by the Chinese event but even collisions with tiny objects can be catastrophic in space, largely due to the pace at which spacecraft are moving in orbit, a minimum of 7.8km per second.