Podcast | Why Is NASA Worried About Debris From Mission Shakti?

The A-SAT test that India conducted on 27 March was successful but it left a lot of space junk and NASA is grossly upset over that. But, is there no debris from other tests conducted by other countries, especially the US? What are the potential threats and what has been done to avoid them? And, why is the debris from Mission Shakti so much in the news? Tune in to The Big Story podcast.

Mission Shakti was lauded because it shows that India can shoot down hostile satellites and even intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles but NASA says, there are at least 400 pieces of debris from the blast.

The space agency's administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed concern about the debris saying that some of the pieces went higher than the apogee of the International Space Station – which means the furthest point away from the Earth in the space station's orbit. He said the risk went up by 44% after the test but that the debris might dissipate soon.

"That is a terrible terrible thing… to create an event that creates debris that goes above the apogee of ISS…The risk, and I am talking about small debris’ impact to the ISS, went up 44 percent over a period of ten days." - Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator

One of the tweets that went viral after Bridenstine’s comments was Mahindra group chairperson Anand Mahindra’s tweet.

There are others who, like Mahindra, think that NASA's attitude towards this has been hypocritical and biased.

And it is hypocritical of NASA, if you look at the debris left by US alone. Technically, USA already did something similar in 2008. It launched an A-SAT against a redundant satellite exactly like India did and that created a lot of debris that shot into a higher orbit.

Also Read: NASA’s View on Mission Shakti Discriminatory: Ex-DRDO Scientist 

And speaking of the debris left behind by the US, a report on The Hindu said there were 4,091 pieces of debris left by the US compared to India’s 80 – a figure from before the A-SAT test. Those figures were accessed from SPACE-TRACK.org, which is maintained by the US Defence Wing. Russia and China are also on top of the list. In fact, according to NASA, there are 15,000 officially catalogued objects – which are mostly bits of spacecrafts and there are at least 5 lakh tiny particles.

India, on its part, said that it didn't violate any space law.

Hypocrisy apart, NASA's fear is real as the pieces of debris whiz around at great speed and the average impact speed of a collusion will be approximately 10 km/s and that's big. There have been collusions in the past which caused more debris. The more recent one was in 2009 and it was a US communication satellite which collided with a Russian one and that collusion created 2,300 fragments.

But of course, the point is, like Dinesh Gupta said, collective responsibility to maintain a swachh space is essential considering that an event happening in space far far away from the Earth ends up affecting our geopolitics. The Outer Space Treaty does say that nations must be held responsible for their actions in space – but those laws aren't detailed – because when it was made in 1967, our space invasion was at a nascent stage.

As far as cleaning up space debris is concerned, it's been hard to arrive at a decision. All the countries fear that whichever country comes up with the technology to clean up debris can also use the same technology as a military weapon which would be capable of attacking fully functional satellites.

Also Read: A-SAT Distasteful & Of No Help: Ex-ISRO Official on Mission Shakti

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