Exactly four years ago India undertook an anti-satellite test (ASAT) on March 27, 2019 which was a major surprise to many around the world. With this test India joined the elite group of countries in the world who have similar capabilities – Russia, China and the US and ensured its relevance in the space domain.
Codenamed as Mission Shakti
During this test a missile from the ground was fired towards the satellite Microsat-R which was at a lower altitude of 283-km. It was a well-planned operation conducted by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). This satellite was the target satellite manufactured by DRDO and was put in space by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on January 24, 2019. At the time of the satellite launch DRDO claimed that this was an experimental imaging satellite. India’s policy makers and scientific community had successfully kept this test a surprise and no one had any idea about this test. The world came to know about this test only when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the success of this test publicly.
Any Space Deterrence
Since that one test was carried out almost four years ago, there is not much information available in the public domain which suggests that DRDO is in the process of developing more counter-space technologies.
In 2019, the Defence Space Agency (DSA) in 2019 was created and it conducted its first simulated space warfare exercise. And in 2022 as reported by Financial Express Online on the sidelines of the DefExpo 2022 in Gandhinagar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the launch of the Space Defence Mission. This military space programme was launched to encourage innovative solutions for the country’s armed forces in which the start-ups and domestic industry will be involved.
View of an expert
According to Dr Ajey Lele, consultant, MP-IDSA, New Delhi, “India had learned much from its earlier experiences of nuclear tests, when there was much condemnation of India for going nuclear and subsequently India was put under sanctions. Owing to this so-called ‘technological apartheid’ India technology development trajectory mainly in sectors like space, defence and nuclear energy had to suffer a lot. This time India was keen to ensure that no diplomatic fallout happens owing to the ASAT test.”
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Nuclear tests in any form would always have a global backlash; however that was not the case with the ASAT test. “There was a window of opportunity for conducting a test without much international criticism and India ensured that their test would not project itself as a global rule-breaker.”
Know about the test
“The ASAT test conducted by India was kinetic test Direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT). During this test a missile (without any warhead) gets fired towards a satellite in space and due to kinetic impact the satellite disintegrates into many pieces called space debris,” explains Dr Lele.
Since there is no gravity out into space such debris keeps on moving in space. “When the debris comes in the path of any operational satellite then any hit by debris would impact the health of satellites. During 2007 China conducted an ASAT test at an altitude of 865 km killing its own aging satellite and during 2021 Russia conducted a similar test at an altitude close to 500 km,” he says.
According to Dr Lele, “Both these tests have created around 5000 traceable pieces of debris which are harmful for the operating satellites of various countries. However, if you conduct a test at much lower altitudes (here some gravitational pull still exists) then debris created enters the earth’s atmosphere and owing to very high temperatures over there gets burned off. The Indian ASAT test happened at 283 km altitude. Most of the debris created during this test entered the earth’s atmosphere and vanished. Some remaining pieces of debris (say around 50 in number) have also disappeared within a period of one year.”