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India joined an elite club of nations who possess an anti-satellite technology. The technological mission, named Mission Shakti, was led by DRDO with an aim to strengthen India’s overall security. Experts say, the capability of attacking a satellite in a orbit closer to Earth will give a tactical weapons edge to the country.

Outer Space Treaty, 1967:

  • 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 Outer Space Treaty prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons.
  • 108 countries are parties to the treaty, while another 23 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification.
  • The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.
  • Given the prohibitively expensive nature of space projects, India and other countries must utilise the increased presence in space to legitimately advance the well-being of their people

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

Raising concerns:

  • Outer space has become an “arena of rivalry between major powers.” At the same time, there was common concern on space debris. Satellites today have to avoid almost 6,00,000 debris of over 1cm travelling at speed faster than a bullet.
  • As space gets increasingly crowded, there is need to regulate space traffic on the lines of air traffic or railways.

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.

Way ahead:

  • Arms race in outer space should not be encouraged. India has always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes. It is against the weaponisation of Outer Space and supports international efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space based assets.
  • India believes that Outer space is the common heritage of humankind and it is the responsibility of all space-faring nations to preserve and promote the benefits flowing from advances made in space technology and its applications for all.