Insights into Editorial: The ABC of India’s anti-satellite missile test
India announced to the world that it had carried out a successful anti-satellite missile test, becoming only the fourth country to do so.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi coming on television himself to make the announcement, the test is being described as a giant technological and strategic development for the country.
Today, we are using space and satellites for all sorts of purposes, including agriculture, defence, disaster management, communication, entertainment, weather, navigation, education, medical uses, and other things.
In such a situation, the security of these satellites is extremely important.
What is an anti-satellite missile test (ASAT)?
It is the technological capability to hit and destroy satellites in space through missiles launched from the ground.
Scientists and engineers at Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) launched a missile from the Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Island launch complex near Balasore in Odisha that struck a predetermined target: a redundant Indian satellite that was orbiting at a distance of 300 km from the Earth’s surface.
Significance of Mission Shakti:
Satellites are used by countries for navigation, communications and also for guiding their missile weaponry.
The ability to bring down an enemy’s missile, therefore, gives a country the capability to cripple critical infrastructure of the other country, rendering their weapons useless.
Though the United States and the then Soviet Union both tested anti-satellite missiles way back in the 1970s at the height of the cold war, never has any country brought down the satellite of any other country, either during a conflict or by mistake.
During the tests, countries target their own satellites, those which are no longer in use but continue to be in the space.
A detailed statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed that an Indian satellite had been used for the test, but did not specify which satellite it was.
PM Modi was careful to state that India’s test was a “defensive” move, aimed at securing its space infrastructure, and does not change India’s strong opposition to weaponisation of space.
Why is space debris such a big problem?
Anything launched into the space remains in space, almost forever, unless it is specifically brought down or slowly disintegrate over decades or centuries.
According to the September 2018 issue of Orbital Debris Quarterly News, published by NASA, there were 19,137 man-made objects in space that were large enough to be tracked.
These included active and inactive satellites, rockets and their parts, and other small fragments. Over a thousand of them are operational satellites.
Besides these, there are estimated to be millions of other smaller objects that have disintegrated from these and keep floating around in space.
Anti-Satellite Missile launch adds to the Space Debris:
When China carried out its first anti-satellite missile test in 2007, destroying its Fengyun-1C weather satellite, it created more than 2,300 large pieces of space debris, and an estimated 1.5 lakh pieces of objects that were larger than 1 cm in size. Each of them could render a satellite useless on collision.
With countries launching more and more satellites, each one of them being a strategic or commercial asset, avoiding collisions could become a challenge in the future.
According to the European Space Agency, there were an estimated 7,50,000 objects of size one cm or above in space.
A satellite that is destroyed by a missile disintegrates into small pieces, and adds to the space debris.
The threat from the space debris is that it could collide with the operational satellites and render them dysfunctional. According to the ESA, space debris is one of the principal threats to satellites.
Countries do not want to complicate matters by creating more debris in space.
The Ministry of External Affairs, in its statement, said the Indian test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there was no space debris.
Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back on to the earth within weeks.
Did India Violated and International or Treaty?
A-SAT missile will give new strength to India’s space programme. India assure the international community that our capability won’t be used against anyone but is purely India’s defence initiative for its security.
We are against arms raised in space. This test won’t breach any international law or treaties.
The test was timed according to the degree of confidence that the country could build, to ensure success in the mission and with no intention of entering into an arms race in the outer space.
India has always maintained that space must be used for peaceful purposes and that outer space is the common heritage of humankind.
The test does not violate any International law or treaty and also supported UNGA resolution 69/32 on No First Placement of Weapons on Outer Space
A strong India is necessary for the security of this region. Our strategic goal is to ensure peace and not create an environment for war.
While the government has conceded that India has long had ASAT capabilities, this is the country’s first demonstration to the world.
It has shown that it is capable of bringing down a satellite, and disrupting communication.
Targeting satellites in the higher orbits, however, is only a matter of scale of powering the rockets enough to go deeper in the space.
India stressed that it always been against the weaponisation of outer space and support international efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space-based assets.
Many of the most strategic satellites are placed in orbits that 30,000 km from earth’s surface or even higher. DRDO scientists claim India has the technology to target these as well.