India destroyed a satellite with a missile last week and parts were launched into an orbit threatening the International Space Station


Last week, in a move that left a lot of puzzlement, India destroyed one of its own satellites. According to a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this operation ("Mission Shakti") was conducted with a new type of anti-satellite missile. With this unique act, Modi claimed that India had "established itself as a space power," thus joining the United States, Russia, and China.

Unfortunately, this demonstration created a cloud of orbital debris in low Earth orbit (LEO). According to a recent statement by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, these debris pose an "unacceptable" threat to the International Space Station. In this sense, India may have seriously upset international efforts in space by demonstrating power as a space power.

Bridenstine made the statement during an organization-wide plenary session on Monday, April 1 at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC. When discussing issues related to NASA's plans for the resumption of lunar exploration and its possible crew missions on Mars, Bridenstine was asked to assess the impact of the missile test on NASA and astronauts in low Earth orbit.

"It is absolutely true that the intentional creation of orbital debris fields is not compatible with manned spaceflight," he told Patrick Murphy of the Space Technology Mission (STMD) Directorate of Space. NASA, who touched on the subject. He went on to describe what NASA currently knows about the missile test and the resulting debris field:

"We know we have identified 400 pieces of this orbital event. This is what has been identified. Now, all this can not be followed. What we are currently following, objects big enough to be followed – we are talking about 10 centimeters [~4 inches] or bigger – about 60 pieces were followed. In other words, we have a tracking number and we are able to track where they are. Of these 60, we know that 24 of them exceed the peak of the International Space Station. "

These actions, he said, are "a terrible, terrible thing" and go against what NASA and other space agencies are committed to – namely the marketing of LEO. Between the deployment of commercial space stations, the Internet and research satellites, and microgravity studies, there is no shortage of interests that would be threatened by this type of military testing.

Bridenstine also said that they continued to monitor the debris field and learn more about it and the risks it posed hour by hour. Based on assessments made last week by experts from NASA and the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), Bridenstine claimed that the risk of collision with the ISS had increased by 44% in l & y. Only ten days.

The International Space Station (ISS), seen here with the Earth as a backdrop. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station (ISS), seen here with the Earth as a backdrop. Credit: NASA

Worse than this is the threat of escalation, said Bridenstine, where a country conducting such tests will encourage others to do the same. This contrasts with recent comments from space scientist Ajay Lele, who voiced his thoughts on the anti-satellite test during an interview last week with the Doordarshan Indian media network:

"India has demonstrated its deterrence capability. It is unlikely that India has raised the issue to another country at this stage … A space treaty does not allow the use of weapons of mass destruction in outer space. A similar test conducted by China in 2007 left a lot of debris still floating. "

Curiously, the same incident was cited by Bridenstine as an example of how anti-satellite missile testing is unacceptable to the extent that it creates a persistent problem of space debris. "You go back in time [to] 2007, he said, "a direct-lift anti-satellite test conducted by the Chinese, not all of these orbital debris is debris – but a large part is still in orbit and we are still in the process of manage".

According to Bridenstine, this type of behavior is unacceptable and completely hostile to the peaceful development of the LEO. It's also a burden for NASA, he said, who is responsible for conducting an analysis of traffic management and space knowledge for the whole world, service that It provides for free:

[W]you do it for free – with the compliments of the taxpayer of the United States of America America – [for] an orbital debris field created by another country. Why do we do this as a nation? Because it's the right thing to do because we want to preserve the space environment. "

Artist's view of an anti-satellite missile. Credit: Jeremy Cook / Popular Mechanics.

This corresponds to the responsibilities of the DSTM as defined in the Third Space Policy Directive, which was published in June 2018. This directive, for the first time in its history, entrusts NASA with the development of necessary technologies and capabilities. for debris clouds can be followed more closely in the future.

One of the main objectives here is to bring a synthesis to the separate monitoring efforts currently being conducted by government entities such as the US Air Force (USAF) and the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). These efforts will now be overseen by the US Department of Commerce, as the focus is now on national security to foster economic development.

"NASA has a role to play here," concluded Bridenstine. "Especially when it comes to protecting the lives of our astronauts … we are the only agency of the federal government to have human lives at stake here and it is not acceptable for us to to allow people to create orbital debris fields that endanger our people. "

"Know it, even though the risk has increased 44%, our astronauts are still safe, the [ISS] is always safe. If we have to maneuver it, we will do it. The probability that I think is low. But in the end, these activities are neither compatible nor sustainable with manned space flights. "

Thirty-ninth flight of the ISRO Polar Satellite Launcher (PSLV-C37), which took place on February 15, 2017. Photo: ISRO

India has made very significant progress in recent years. These include the deployment of the spaceship Mangalayaan – aka. Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – which became the first robotic mission to orbit Mars around the first time. More recently, India has set a new record for the number of satellites launched on a single mission (104).

This was followed by the announcement of the dispatch by India of three astronauts in space by 2022, as well as the unveiling of space suits that they would use for the mission. These developments, among others, illustrate how India has become a nation and reflect its desire to become the fourth largest space power in the world.

However, like China, India's recent actions show that national space programs still have a certain militaristic advantage. Between the United States, Russia, China and India, all the major achievements of the last 70 years were related to the development of rocket systems designed to carry nuclear charges.

However, the concept of military competition in space is a vestige of the previous century and must be allowed to become obsolete. What we need more than ever and that has been achieved in many ways is a spirit of cooperation in space and the peaceful development of its resources. As programs like the ISS clearly demonstrate, what affects everyone affects everyone.

As indicated by the lunar plate that was delivered to the moon's surface by the Apollo 11 crew, "Here, the men of planet Earth have set foot for the first time on the Moon, in July 1969 of our era. We came in peace for all humanity. The war was a period of fierce competition, the era of distinct fates in space followed its course.

Further reading: Business Insider

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