India joins elite club with test strike on satellite

Last Updated 27 March 2019, 20:45 IST

India on Wednesday joined an elite club of four nations that have an anti-satellite (ASAT) capability by destroying a small functional satellite at an altitude of 300 km using a ballistic missile that struck the space-platform in a “Hit to Kill” mode.

“India accomplishes Mission Shakti and becomes the fourth space power after USA, Russia and China with an indigenous anti-satellite missile hitting a live satellite target in a low earth orbit of 300 km. It was an extremely difficult operation that was done in three minutes,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an unusual address to the nation in the middle of an election season.

The test, that required an extremely high degree of precision and technical capability, demonstrates India’s ability to interdict and intercept a satellite in outer space based on indigenous technology.

“DRDO successfully conducted an anti-satellite missile test Mission Shakti from the Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Island in Odisha. A Ballistic Missile Defence interceptor missile successfully engaged an Indian orbiting target satellite in low earth orbit in a ‘Hit to Kill’ mode. The test demonstrated India’s capability to defend its assets in outer space,” a DRDO spokesperson said in a statement.

The interceptor missile was a three-stage missile with two solid rocket boosters. Tracking data from range sensors have confirmed that the mission met all its objectives.

Government sources said the test was carried out in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there is no space debris in the long run.

The debris generated by the missile-hit will decay and fall back on to the earth after several weeks.

The last such test, carried out by China in January 2007, not only triggered condemnation from all over the globe due to the weaponisation of space but generated widespread concerns about debris too among space-faring nations, which feared such stray debris could be dangerous to operational satellites.

Neither the Prime Minister nor the government officials disclosed the identity of the target satellite, but it be could a small DRDO satellite launched by Isro in January. “The satellite used in the mission was one of India’s existing satellites operating in the lower orbit,” said an official. Modi said India was against the weaponisation of space but Wednesday’s test was carried out to show that Indian armed forces have the ability to hit at a satellite in space in case of any need.

“The ASAT is a weapon of deterrence,” said V K Saraswat, a member of NITI Ayog and former DRDO chief who oversaw India’s ballistic missile defence interceptor missiles. One such BMD interceptor was used on Wednesday.

The test that required an extremely high degree of precision and technical capability, was fully successful and achieved all parameters. The surprise announcement by the Prime Minister came just two weeks before the polls begin. A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security preceded the announcement.

(Published 27 March 2019, 19:25 IST)

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