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India silent over Nasa’s missile test criticism

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Nasa criticised India yesterday for testing an anti-satellite missile that it said increased the danger of space junk collisions with the International Space Station, but the country has declined to comment on the accusation.

India’s Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Aman Anand said there was no official response to Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine’s statements about the missile launch.

On 27 March, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi announced that his country had managed to shoot down one of its own low-orbit satellites, declaring that the country was now a “space power”.

But Bridenstine said the action had left debris high enough in orbit to pose a risk to the ISS.

The risk of collision to the ISS was increased by 44 per cent over a period of 10 days, he said, after  identifying 400 different pieces of orbital debris from the event.

“We know that 24 of these are going above the apogee of International Space Station. That’s a terrible, terrible thing to create,” he said.

“It’s unacceptable and Nasa needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is. Intentionally creating orbital debris fields is not compatible with human space flight.”

India’s External Affairs Ministry in a statement after the 27 March test said that whatever debris generated would decay and fall back to Earth within weeks as the test was in the lower atmosphere.

The International Space Station serves as a research laboratory and has hosted astronauts from various countries since it was launched into orbit in 1998.

“The amount of debris which the United States itself has created in space is gigantic as compared to a few pieces of debris from the Indian test,” said Pallava Bagla, a science writer at the New Delhi Television Channel. “In orbit, we have 2,000 functional satellites.

“Eight hundred of them belong to the United States. India has only 48 functional satellites in the orbit.”

In Washington, the vice commander of US Air Force Space Command told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week that the Air Force detected about 270 objects in the debris field created when India destroyed the satellite and the number was likely to increase.

He said the Air Force will inform satellite operators if any of those objects become a threat to satellites in orbit.

In September a 2mm hole was found on the ISS with Russian space officials suggesting that it may have been deliberate sabotage. Astronauts repaired the hole with tape which caused some loss of pressure from that area of the spacecraft. 

Space junk is becoming an increasing problem, and a number of proposals have been suggested including using harpoons and nets to bring some of the debris back down to Earth.

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