Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India had successfully tested an anti-satellite missile and destroyed a low-orbiting microsatellite, a NASA administrator Tuesday called it a “terrible thing”, and said it was “unacceptable” as it has increased the dangers for astronauts aboard the International Space Station by 44 per cent.With Mission Shakti, India is now among the world’s advanced space powers and is only the fourth country after the US, Russia and China with the strategic capability to hit and destroy satellites.
Addressing a town hall, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency has identified “400 pieces of orbital debris” after India shot down a microsatellite. “That’s what has been identified, but all of that cannot be tracked. We are tracking about 60 pieces right now — these are objects that are 10 cm or bigger. Of these 60, we know that 24 of them are going above the apogee of the International Space Station,” he said.
Adding that the event led to new risks for astronauts aboard the International Space Station, Bridenstine said, “We’re learning more and more every hour that goes by about this orbital degree field that has been created by the ASAT test. Since last week, the risk of small debris impact on the ISS has increased by 44 per cent.” He, however, added that the astronauts and the ISS are safe and “if we need to manoeuvre it (the debris), we will.”
“At the end of the day, these activities are not sustainable or compatible with human spaceflight,” Bridenstine said. He was responding to a question from a member of the NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
“It is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” Bridenstine continued, adding: “When one country does it, other countries feel like they have to do it as well. It’s unacceptable.”
“The good thing is, the debris is low enough in orbit that in time, this will all dissipate. A lot of the debris from China’s anti-satellite test in 2007 is still in orbit and we’re still dealing with it,” he said.
The US military tracks objects in space to predict the collision risk for the ISS and for satellites. They are currently tracking 23,000 objects larger than 10 cm. That includes about 10,000 pieces of space debris, of which nearly 3,000 were created by a single event: a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007 at 530 miles from the surface.