NASA Says India Put ISS at 'Terrible Risk' After Detonating Satellite in Space

Friday, 05 April 2019 - 9:53AM
Science News
Friday, 05 April 2019 - 9:53AM
NASA Says India Put ISS at 'Terrible Risk' After Detonating Satellite in Space
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Composite adapted from public domain images
NASA is pulling no punches in its condemnation of India's March 27th anti-satellite test which had the Indian military launching a missile at one of their low-orbit satellites. At recent NASA town hall meeting, Administrator Jim Bridenstine addressed the Indian mission, saying "intentionally creating orbital debris fields is not compatible with human space flight," adding that NASA had identified "400 pieces of orbital debris from that event" and were tracking 60 that were 10 cm or larger.  "Of those 60," Bridenstine warned, "we know that 24 of them are going above the apogee of the International Space Station."


The problem is that this space debris isn't merely floating around in space: it's moving, and at speeds that can easily damage a satellite, spacecraft, or even the ISS. NASA reports that they are tracking more than 500,000 pieces of space debris – both man-made and organic – orbiting the Earth at speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour: fast enough for even a paint chip to damage a window (which has happened before). Note that those are just the objects that NASA is tracking. Nicholas Johnson, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris, has called the non-trackable space junk "the greatest risk to space missions."


G. Satheesh Reddy, an official from India's Defence Research and Development Organisation, however, claims there's no threat due to the targeted satellite's low orbit. "The debris is moving right now," Reddy told Reuters. "How much debris, we are trying to work out, but our calculations are it should be dying down within 45 days."


That's not to say that NASA is overreacting in their concerns. In an interview with Forbes, ESA's Space Debris Office head Holger Krag pointed out the uncertainty that immediately follows the destruction of any object in space. "For the first few days after the event, you always have a dark risk, because you know you're surrounded by fragments, and you don't know where they are," Krag said, cautiously adding that "it makes a difference that [India's test was] in a low altitude because these objects, they disappear fairly quickly"


India, whose military technology has proven to be less than adequate in the past, seemed positively jubilant. The Washington Post reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared India a new member of "space club," joining America, Russia, and China as a country with anti-satellite missiles. "We are not just capable to defend on land, water and air, but now also in space," Modi said, failing to acknowledge the threat posed to the ISS.


It seems that whatever becomes of the human species, one thing is certain: we will leave a lasting mark on the galaxy that will be blotted out only after we disappear into the vacuum of endless space and time.
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