India joins Super Space Tech club with ‘Mission Shakti’

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday announced that India has demonstrated anti-satellite missile capability by shooting down a live satellite.

Addressing the nation, he said India’s action was not directed against any country.

Shooting down a low earth orbit satellite is a rare achievement for the country, he said.

India, could have achieved this fete in 2012 itself had then Congress-led UPA-II too has granted permission to DRDO, when its Director Sarswat sought permission.

What’s the science behind Mission Shakti which has given India a place among the world’s elite space powers? What’s a low earth orbit satellite?

This is an earth-centred orbit with an altitude of 2000 km or less. These satellites move at a speed of 7.8 km/sec. The speed is reduced with an increase in orbital altitude.

A satellite needs the lowest amount of energy for being placed into a low earth orbit. These satellites are commonly used for communication purposes such as Iridium Communication Satellites. One of the quintessential LEOs functional is the Hubble Space Telescope which orbits at about 540 km above the earth.

These satellites are hard to locate as their position in orbit changes continuously. Also, they observe and communicate over a very small area of the earth.

What are ASATs?

Anti-satellite missiles or ASATs are missiles specifically designed to destroy satellites for strategic purposes. Several nations have operational ASAT systems but have not used them in warfare.

In 2010. the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had announced that India was developing the exo-atmospheric kill vehicle technology that could be combined to a weapon to destroy enemy satellites in orbit.

In 2012, VK Saraswat, the then chief of the DRDO, announced that India has all the building blocks in place to integrate an anti-satellite weapon to neutralize hostile satellites in low earth and polar orbits. He apparently sought permission of then UPA-II government, which was denied.

History of ASATs and their legality: Anti-satellite tests are extremely controversial and considered to be contributing towards weaponisation of space, which is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Hence PM Modi was careful to mention that the missile test does not violate any international treaty and is a “defensive” move, aimed at securing its space infrastructure, and does not change India’s strong opposition to the weaponisation of space.

In January 2007, China destroyed its dysfunctional satellite with an SC-19 ASAT missile with a kinetic warhead. In January 2008, an American reconnaissance satellite which went out of orbit was shot down by the US with a RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 Anti-Ballistic Missile.

Russia is the only country to have test-fired ASAT missiles unlike other nations who fired them to shoot down out of orbit satellites.

In November 2015, Russia successfully test-fired its direct-ascent anti-satellite missile, known as PL-19 Nudol. Russia reportedly test-fired the Nudol four more times since then, the last being in December 2018.

By joining the unique club alongside US, Russia and China, India’s position become unassailable as far bargaining power is concerned.

The anti-satellite missile destruction capability can ensure India to systematically destroy the enemies satellites which will be supporting their respective defence resources movements and also paralyse them

Interestingly, the timing of the announcement of India joining Super League of Space Technology, may as well prove another ‘political weapon’ to the BJP-led NDA to boast that it’s only their leader Modi alone can take such decisive decision when challenging situations arise, especially with hostile nations like China and Pakistan around.

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