Indian satellite destruction created 400 pieces of debris, says NASA

Indian satellite missile test was a ‘terrible thing’ that created 400 pieces of debris and endangered astronauts on board the International Space Station, says NASA

  • Jim Bridenstein, head of NASA, called India’s satellite destruction ‘unacceptable’
  • He said it created 400 pieces of space debris, 24 of which threatened the ISS 
  • India destroyed one of its own satellites with a ballistic missile last week 
  • Prime Minister Modi hailed it a major technological breakthrough for his country
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NASA has told India that blowing up one of its own satellites with a ballistic missile was a ‘terrible thing’ that created 400 pieces of space debris.

Jim Bridenstine, head of NASA, said that some of the debris is now moving towards the International Space Station, creating a risk for astronauts on board.

Bridenstine said the explosion had created 60 pieces of debris that are large enough to track – meaning 10cm (6ins) or larger – and of those, 24 are moving into a position where they could threaten the ISS. 

Jim Bridenstein, head of NASA, has slammed India’s mission to blow up one of its own satellites as a ‘terrible thing’ that put the International Space Station at risk

India last week launched a ballistic missile which successfully destroyed a satellite, becoming one of just a handful of countries to possess the technology 

‘That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,’ he said.

‘That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight.

‘It’s unacceptable and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is.’

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 centimeters.

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As a result of the Indian test, the risk of collision with the ISS has increased by 44 percent over 10 days, Bridenstine said.

But the risk will dissipate over time as much of the debris will burn up as it enters the atmosphere.

India announced last week that it had used a ballistic missile interceptor to destroy one of its own satellites at a height of 300 km (186 miles), in a test aimed at boosting its defenses in space.

Few satellites operate at the altitude of 300 km, from which experts say the collision debris will fall back to earth, burning up in the atmosphere in a matter of weeks, instead of posing a threat to other satellites.

‘That’s why we did it at lower altitude, it will vanish in no time,’ G. Satheesh Reddy, the chief of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, told Reuters in an interview. 

America is currently tracking 23,000 pieces of space debris larger than 10cm (6ins) – the smallest that can be detected – and say the India test added at least 60 objects of this size

‘The debris is moving right now. How much debris, we are trying to work out, but our calculations are it should be dying down within 45 days.’

In 2007, China destroyed a satellite in a polar orbit, creating the largest orbital debris cloud in history, with more than 3,000 objects, according to the Secure World Foundation.

Since the impact altitude exceeded 800 km (500 miles), many of the resulting scraps stayed in orbit.

Critics say such technology, known to be possessed only by the United States, Russia and China, raises the prospect of an arms race in outer space, besides posing a hazard by creating a cloud of fragments that could persist for years.

Shanahan said the Indian test was a reminder about how space was becoming increasingly contested, and underscored the necessity of creating a Space Command – a stepping stone toward President Donald Trump goal of creating a Space Force.

‘It really speaks to: Why we need to stand up Space Command. Think about the importance now of rules of engagement, the authorities, the tactics, techniques and procedures,’ Shanahan said.

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