Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced last Wednesday his nation had achieved a “historic feat” by successfully conducting an anti-satellite missile test with a ground-based missile platform, making India the fourth nation on the planet to boast such a capability. The test, however, produced at least 400 pieces of orbital debris large enough to pose a risk to other platforms in space, including the inhabited International Space Station (ISS).
That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Monday. “That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight. It is not acceptable for us to allow people to create orbital debris fields that put at risk our people.”
Indian officials claim the test was conducted in the “lower atmosphere” where any debris created by the destroyed satellite would follow a decaying orbit back toward Earth and the friction created by reentry would burn it up. NASA, however, doesn’t agree with the Indian assessment, arguing its models suggest the missile test increased the risk of debris impacting the ISS by a sizeable 44% in the ten days following the test.
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 3-D to save lives here on Earth, or manufacturing capabilities in space that you’re not able to do in a gravity well,” Bridenstine said. “All of those are placed at risk when these kind of events happen – and when one country does it, then other countries feel like they have to do it as well.”