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It's time to talk about India's relentless anti-satellite test

  ASAT launch

There has been little reaction from other governments about India's anti-satellite test last month. (credit: DRDO)

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India used its advanced anti-ballistic missile defense capability to conduct a kinetic anti-satellite test ("Mission Shakti") against one of their own satellites on March 27. India became the fourth state, after the United States, Russia and China, to show an ASAT capability and only the third to perform a direct listening to an object in space.

According to India's government, the India test is making a "space force". But India was already a rising space force. This test was simply ruthless.

Details of the event are still revealed, but it is reported that a BMD missile interceptor, developed by the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization, was launched from the Abdul Kalam Island launch complex. It then intercepted an Indian satellite, Microsat-R, at a height of approximately 300 kilometers. India's Foreign Ministry claimed, "The test was fully successful and reached all parameters according to plan." According to the Indian government, the India test is making a "space force".

But India was already a rising space force. This test was simply ruthless. India's regional rivalry with China, a space force, is an important driving force for its actions ̵

1; a situation also plays well with domestic audiences. But the consequences are global.

The first concern that will immediately be remembered is the production of debris, which poses a danger to all other spacecraft near the strike. India claims that it took a responsible way to produce debris. Since the strike was at the relatively low altitude of 300 kilometers, almost all the resulting debris should resume the Earth's atmosphere within a few weeks.

Although this is a better result than the massive cloud that China created in 2007 – which still poses a threat in space – it is not satisfactory. We do not know exactly how much debris is produced and exactly how large the spread will be. But even if it is short-lived, some debris poses a threat, especially to the international space station.

Furthermore, this test breaks the taboo against kinetic interceptions that have existed since Chinese and American demonstrations more than a decade ago. There are other ways that India could have demonstrated such a power of arms without creating junk. China is, for example, known for having carried out a number of flyby tests in recent years. While it is less spectacular than blowing a satellite out of the sky, such testing is surely safer. But even such demonstrations are still aggressive.

But beyond peers about the dangers of rubbish, the international community of states has silenced. Such silence leaves us all less secure.

Fallout from India's ASAT is more than rubbish. India's test boosts fuel to what is already a simmering weapon race in outer space and exacerbates growing military tensions. Although India claims that the test was conducted to protect its assets in space, AST weapons are in themselves offensive. The assumption of aggression is reinforced by the fact that the test was performed without warning to the international community.

Such a destructive ability does little to improve national security in space. Instead, the best way to preserve a global commons is with a delicate natural and strategic environment to support common security through the rules and limitations of weapons and dangerous behavior.

From this angle, India's test was also diplomatically ruthless. A group of government experts representing more than 25 states have recently held talks in Geneva that are exploring opportunities to promote further action to prevent a gun battle and armed conflict in outer space (PAROS). So far, this challenge of more than three decades has proved uneven. India is part of this discussion and argues that it supports efforts on PAROS and peaceful uses of outer space. However, the measures can only give rise to the solution for those who would resist new arms control measures and encourage dissemination.

India has a long and remarkable history in space. Created in 1969, the Indian Space Research Organization is one of the oldest civil space organizations in the world. India launched its own satellite in 1980. The first Indian astronaut boarded a Soviet space station in 1984. In 2008, India became one of the few nations to place a spacecraft in orbit around the moon, with a second Moon mission expected to start later. And India continues with an ambitious space exploration and human space flight program. It has created innovative solutions in the launch industry and launches commercial and foreign state satellites for customers around the world.

With some action, India has steadily increased as space strength. The claim that it takes a gun test to establish such a status is dangerous. And as striving for nuclear weapons, others encourage following to be part of this "elite club". Such a path to "power" is actually legitimized by subdued international reactions.

Some voices are raised in the industry and civil society. Planet, a global Earth Imaging Company, condemned the test as a threat to the stability of the outer space environment. Members of the Secure World Foundation and Union of Concerned Scientists have raised concerns about a dynamic weapon race and the devastating potential of outer space conflicts. But beyond peers about the dangers of junk, the international community of states has silenced.

Such silence leaves us all less secure.

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