Mission Shakti: India becomes Fourth ‘Space Superpower’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday (27/3/19) announced that India has successfully tested its first anti-satellite missile system, code-named ‘Mission Shakti’.  A defunct Lower Earth Orbiting (LEO)  satellite of India, which was orbiting at an altitude of 300 km, was shot down by the weapon within three minutes of launch.

  1. Anti-satellite Missiles (ASAT) are space weapons designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes.  They are essentially long-range missiles that have a kinetic kill vehicle attached to them.
  2. The other countries having anti-satellite weapon capabilities are United States, Russia and China. With the success of the Mission Shakti, India became the fourth ‘space superpower’.
  3. The mission was led by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), aimed at strengthening India’s overall security.
  4. The missile was launched from Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam Island launch complex, the DRDO’s testing range in Odisha’s Balasore. 
  5. The test was done on an Indian satellite which had been decommissioned and was orbiting on a ‘Low Earth Orbit’ at a height of 300 KM from the earth’s surface.
  6. The mission was a highly complex one and was conducted at extremely high speed with remarkable precision. The entire test, with confirmation of target elimination, took 3 minutes.
  7. Mission Shakti was coordinated by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chairman G. Satheesh Reddy and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval along with officers of the National Security Council.
  8. Indian ASAT test is believed to have destroyed the Microsat-R satellite. It was a medium-sized military imaging satellite built by DRDO and was launched in January by the Indian Space Research Organization.
  9. The test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there is no space debris. Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks. 
  10. The MEA statement said that the purpose of the test was to “safeguard” India’s own “space assets” and made it clear that India had “no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space”.

Courtesy: Indian Express

  • The USA and Soviet Union conducted large scale research and tests in the field of ASAT from 1950s onwards, during cold war era.
  • On February 21, 2008, the U.S. Navy destroyed the malfunctioning US spy satellite USA-193 using a ship-fired RIM-161 Standard Missile 3.
  • On January 11, 2007, the People’s Republic of China successfully destroyed a defunct Chinese weather satellite, FY-1C, and became the member of this elite space club.
  • Again in 2015, Russia also tested its PL-19 Nudol missile.
  • China conducted its latest anti-satellite missile test in 2013, when it launched its new ASAT missile, the Dong Neng-2 or DN-2.

A US ASAT Missile

  • In 2012, V.K. Saraswat, then the chief of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) announced that India has all necessary resources to build an anti-satellite weapon to neutralize hostile satellites in low earth and polar orbits.
  • In an interview, Saraswat suggested that India’s anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense program could be utilized as an ASAT weapon, along with its Agni series of missiles.
  • India has seen an accelerated space development programme since 2014.
  • The principal international Treaty on space is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. India is a signatory to this treaty, and ratified it in 1982.
  • The Outer Space Treaty prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, but it does not explicitly ban the use of missile technologies used for ASAT.
  • Ministry of External Affairs in its press release said that India did not violate any international law or Treaty to which it is a Party or any national obligation.
  • Many space observers and satellite operators raise concerns over the debris created from ASAT test. Objects in orbit are moving up 17,000 miles per hour in space. If one of these pieces hits another satellite, it can cause damage that might make a satellite inoperable. And some of these pieces are potentially quite small, making them hard to track.
  • The ASAT test on Microsat-R will not be a serious problem as it was in a relatively low orbit. Most of the pieces created from this event will probably fall to Earth within the next couple of weeks and months. And since the satellite is not a large one, it will not create a lot of debris. As a result, Mission Shakti is called a controlled ASAT test.
  • In contrast, the Chinese test in 2007 provoked international ire because it destroyed a satellite at a little over 800 km, producing over 14,000 pieces of debris that endangered hundreds of other satellites in its vicinity. The act violated the principles of the Outer Space Treaty.

(Courtesy: Times of India, Indian Express, The New Indian Express Edex Live, Indian Defence Update, The Verge, The Wire) 

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