NASA slams India's anti-satellite test, may pull support from mission Gaganyaan

Ocean clouds seen from spaceNASA

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) claims that India's test of their anti-satellite weapon is a "terrible, terrible thing."
  • The head of NASA stated, "That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight."
  • But, most experts feel like since the test was conducted at an altitude of 250kms, it's unlikely to be a threat to the International Space Station (ISS).
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has strongly criticised Mission Shakti, India's anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test, saying the debris from the explosion endangers the International Space Station (ISS).

According to NASA, the risk of collision of the debris with the International Space Station (ISS) has increased by 44% over the last 10 days.

"What we are tracking right now, objects big enough to track — we're talking about 10 centimeters (six inches) or bigger — about 60 pieces have been tracked," Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of NASA said in an announcement to his employees.

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.

Jim Bridenstine, administrator of NASA

This may put India's collaboration with US on Mission Gaganyaan, the Indian human spaceflight programme, in jeopardy. Bridentstine and the ISRO Chairman, K Sivan, were reportedly in talks about forming a working group to work exclusively on the project.

It may also push India towards cementing its collaboration with Russia for the Gaganyaan mission.

India and France was already signed a memorandum of understanding where the French scientists will share their expertise to help the human space project get off the ground.

Is there really a threat to the ISS?

The United States Air Force (USAF) has also been tracking remnants from India's ASAT test. Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of USAF told the Senate Armed Services Committee in the US that, "they are tracking about 270 different objects in the debris field." Adding that the number will only grow as the debris spreads out and their sensors pick up more information.

An estimated 6,500 pieces of space debris as expected as a result of Mission Shakti according to a simulation created by Analytical Graphics Inc., an engineering software company that creates models of the space environment around Earth.

The Indian government, on the other hand, claims that their test was specifically conducted in low Earth orbit (LEO) in order to ensure that there is no space debris created. And whatever debris may have been left behind, will eventually decay and fall back onto Earth within the span of a few weeks.

Experts like Kumar Abhijeet, member of the International Institute of Space Law, also believe that the debris will most likely dissipate in the atmosphere.

Now, debris also depends on where we’re doing the test. In China’s case, they did it at 800kms — we’ve conducted ours at 300kms. The debris will most likely burn up in the atmosphere. So there is minimum chance of debris being created.

Kumar Abhijeet, Member of the International Institute of Space Law and Research Scholar at the Institute of Air and Space Law

While China's ASAT test in 2007 might have resulted in the destruction of two Russian satellites due the debris left behind, the test was also conducted at a higher altitude of 850 kilometers. India's test, on the other hand was at an altitude of 300kms.

Since it well below the 400 kms threshold, most experts are claiming are there is no threat to the ISS especially since the debris from the 2008 test conducted by the US at 250kms dissipated within days.

Since then, the Bridenstine has had to resume cooperation with ISRO after an assessment by the Pentagon revealed that the space debris generated by India's ASAT set would dissipate within a few months and does not pose a threat to human space flight.

See also:

India's test of its anti-satellite weapon may have weakened its fight against dangerous space debris

It might be time for ‘space superpowers' to bring in a new space treaty

India enters an elite club after scientists shoot down a low orbit satellite 300 km away in space
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