India became the fourth spacefaring nation to develop an anti-satellite capability with its March 27, 2019 Mission Shakti test, which shot down an Indian satellite in low-Earth orbit, according to a document distributed by the Embassy of India in Washington, DC. The Frequently Asked Questions document was prepared by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and distributed by the embassy.
According to the document, the test employed the DRDO’s Ballistic Missile Defense Interceptor, an element of India’s ongoing ballistic missile defense program, launched from the Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Island launch complex. A hard kill of the satellite was accomplished with indigenous Indian technology employing a kinetic kill vehicle. The successful shoot-down means India joins the United States, Russia, and China in possessing such a capability.
“India has a long standing and rapidly growing space program,” the document states. “It has expanded rapidly in the last five years. The Mangalyaan Mission to Mars was successfully launched. Thereafter, the government has sanctioned the Gaganyaan Mission which will take Indians to outer space.
“India has undertaken 102 spacecraft missions consisting of communication satellites, earth observation satellites, experimental satellites, navigation satellites, apart from satellites meant for scientific research and exploration, academic studies and other small satellites. India’s space programme is a critical backbone of India’s security, economic and social infrastructure.
“The test was done to verify that India has the capability to safeguard our space assets. It is the government of India’s responsibility to defend the country’s interests in outer space.”
While the document also assured that “… debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine disagreed. During a NASA Town Hall meeting, Bridenstine said that of 400 pieces of debris generated by the test, some 60 pieces were 10 centimeters (4 inches) or larger. Some two dozen of these larger pieces of debris, Bridenstine said, were blasted into an orbit higher than the apogee of the International Space Station, constituting a threat to the ISS and the six astronauts on board.
Bridenstine also expressed concern that such tests will provoke other nations to follow suit in demonstrating their own capabilities, saying “that kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight that we need to see happen.”
“We are charged with commercializing low Earth orbit; 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 3D to save lives here on Earth, or manufacturing capabilities in space that you’re not able to do in a gravity well. 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.”