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PRELIMS: Current event of national and international importance

MAINS: GENERAL STUDIES III – Achievements of India in Science and Technology, indigenisation of technology and developing new technology)

On March 27th 2019, India joined the elite club of nations who posses an anti-satellite technology. The technology mission (Mission Shakti) was led by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to strengthen India’s overall security. The capability of attacking a satellite in an orbit closer to Earth shall give a tactical edge to the country.   

Anti-Satellite Weapons (ASAT)

An illustration showing ASAT technology

  • ASAT are space weapons designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes.
  • Space weapons can attack space weapons in orbit (ASAT), attack targets on the earth from space or disable missiles travelling through space.
  • ASAT missiles are of two types – Kinetic or Non-Kinetic.
  • Kinetic A-SAT physically strikes an object and destroys it like ballistic missile.
  • Non-Kinetic A-SAT use non-physical means to disable/destroy a space object like frequency jamming.
  • The theoretical range of A-SAT weapons is limited to 20,000km.
  • The capabilities of ASAT have been demonstrated by United States, Russia, China and India.
  • Israel is said to be on the path of developing its ASAT technology.
  • An ASAT:
  1. Intercept, jam communication or military satellites of enemy countries.
  2. Access critical information about troop movements or incoming missiles.
  3. Launch cyber-attacks on space systems and direct laser-based weapons.
  • ASAT weapons technology is complicated involving highly reliable surface-to-air ballistic missiles and long-range radar and tracking systems.

Previous ASAT missions:

  • 1959: USA performs first anti-satellite test. An air-launched ballistic missile was fired from B-47 bomber at Explorer VI satellite.
  • 1963: Soviet Union acquires ASAT technology.
  • 1985: America tested AGM-135, launched from a F-15 fighter jet and destroyed its own satellite Solwind P 78-1.
  • 2007: China enters anti-satellite arena. It destroyed old weather satellite in a high, polar orbit.
  • 2008: USA carried out Operation Burnt Frost to destroy a defunct spy satellite.
  • 27th March 2019: India became the fourth nation to acquire ASAT technology.


A derivative of an interceptor from Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Program being launched for ASAT test on 27th March 2019

  • It showed India’s Anti-Satellite capabilities by shooting down a live satellite.
  • The ASAT missile shot down a pre-determined target orbiting an altitude of 300 km within 3 minutes of its launch. This proved its remarkable precision and technical capability
  • The interceptor was launched from Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur, Odisha and hit its target Microsat-R. Microsat-R was an earth observing satellite manufactured by DRDO and launched by ISRO on 24 January 2019.
  • India became the fourth nation in the world to test an ASAT weapon after US, Russia and China.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of India has explained that India has no intention of entering into arms race in outer space. The test was carried out to verify India’s space capabilities to safeguard space assets. The test was not intended any country and the test was done in Low Earth Orbit to ensure that there is no space debris.
  • Low Earth Orbits (LEOs) are geocentric orbits with altitude below 2000km.
  • India did not violate any international space treaty through Mission Shakti. It destroyed its own satellite flying in a LEO.


  • It forms the basis of the international Space Law.
  • It was signed in 1967 and is effective since then.
  • It has 108 parties at present including India. India had ratified it in
  • It bars state parties to the treaty from placing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in earth orbit, installing them on moon or any other celestial body, or otherwise stationing them in outer space.
  • The treaty exclusively limits the use of moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes.
  • A weapons of mass destruction is a nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological or any other weapon that can cause a great damage to humans and biosphere.
  • But the treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit.
  • It also says that space should be free for exploration and use by all the States.
  • Everyday activities from telecommunications to financial markets civilian navigation rely heavily on space infrastructure. Protecting these assets is important.


The successful development of ASAT technology has improved India’s space power. It has demonstrated its capability to intercept any satellite. So, it has created a deterrence mechanism for its space satellites which are doing various military and civilian services.