NASA has sharply criticized India’s missile destruction of a satellite in space, suggesting that the test could have damaged the International Space Station.
In recent years, Indian space research has accelerated, and in 2014 India became the fourth country with a probe orbiting Mars.
In the last week of March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India had now become the fourth country to use military firepower in space by destroying a satellite.
“I’m talking about small debris impacts to the International Space Station, the risk went up 44% over a period of 10 days,” Jim Bridenstine, administrator of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said. “The good thing is, it’s low enough in Earth orbit that over time, this will all dissipate.”
Bridenstine said the anti-satellite weapon created at least 400 pieces of debris, including 60 fragments that are four inches across or larger. He said 24 of those fragments had ended up in orbits with high points above the 255-mile altitude of the space station.
The NASA administrator, while speaking to the staff as part of a town hall meeting that was live-streamed by NASA TV, said while the International Space Station was still safe, the test was a “terrible, terrible thing.”
It was “not compatible with the future of human spaceflight,” he said.
Last week, Shambhu Hakki a spokesman for the Indian Embassy in Washington, wrote in an email to CNBC that the test was done in the lower atmosphere to mitigate space debris and that any space junk will “decay and fall back onto the Earth within weeks.”
The test, dubbed “Mission Shakti,” was carried out by the Defense Research and Development Organization. “India has no intent on entering into an arms race in outer space,” Hakki said. “We have always maintained that space must be used for peaceful purposes.”
While the test established India as a space power, Modi has been criticized by political parties across the country for using this as a political stunt ahead of general elections set to take place later this month.
“We are charged with commercializing low Earth orbit; we are charged with enabling more activities in space than we’ve ever seen before for the purpose of benefiting the human condition, whether it’s pharmaceuticals or printing human organs in 3D to save lives here on Earth, or manufacturing capabilities in space that you’re not able to do in a gravity well,” Bridenstine added. “All of those are placed at risk when these kind of events happen — and when one country does it, the other countries feel like they have to do it as well.”
Because no nation on Earth owns space real estate, the United Nations should establish a Space Commission in order to make sure that satellites and the ISS are not harmed by missile tests.
These 21st-century years are establishing a new era in space exploration, and it’s vital that no harm comes to humans or devices in space.
Even accidents could lead to a deadly space war and that would be a horrific outcome.