India’s Anti-Satellite Mission Puts the International Space Station on Alert

After destroying one of its own satellites using an anti-satellite missile last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proudly declared India a major space power in a televised speech shortly after the event. The joys expressed by Prime Minister Modi over the success of “Mission Shakti” however may be short-lived. The government is now dealing with reports that the destruction of the satellite has created at least 400 pieces of orbital debris, some of which pose a threat to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This news follows an April 1 briefing by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to employees during a NASA town hall meeting in which Birdenstine condemned the test, calling it “unacceptable.”

During the town hall meeting, Bridenstine said the destruction created about 400 pieces of orbital debris, with 60 pieces larger than ten centimetres being tracked. Despite the satellite destruction occurring at an altitude of 300 km, which is about 100 km below the ISS orbital altitude, 24 of the larger tracked pieces of debris are reportedly moving above the ISS. Prior to this announcement, India’s Foreign Ministry defended the move saying that any “debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks.”

India, having faced border skirmishes with Pakistan and China over the past year, is looking to make headwinds in the race for space. With the success of Mission Shakti, India becomes the fourth country to demonstrate anti-satellite defence capabilities. While Prime Minister Modi has urged that the mission poses no threat to peace in space, critics argue the test was an illustration to neighbours and geopolitical rivals China and Pakistan of India’s weapons capability and ability to potentially disrupt communication networks.