Mission SHAKTI – Growing Stature of India’s Space Programme

  • Category
    Defence
  • Published
    4th Apr, 2019

Issue

Context-

Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has successfully conducted an Anti-Satellite (A-SAT) missile testMission Shakti’ from the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Island in Odisha.

About

  • A DRDO-developed Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Interceptor Missile successfully engaged an Indian orbiting target satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in a ‘Hit to Kill’ mode. The interceptor missile was a three-stage missile with two solid rocket boosters.
  • The test has demonstrated the Nation’s capability to defend its assets in outer space. It is a vindication of the strength and robust nature of DRDO’s programmes.
  • Anti-satellite technology has so far been in the hands of very few countries: the United States, Russia and China.
  • The acquisition and demonstration of this technology make India a member of an elite group of countries.
  • Since there are no treaties governing the use of ASAT, India is not in violation of any international conventions.

    Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO)

    • It works under Department of Defence Research and Development of Ministry of Defence.
    • DRDO is working in various areas of military technology which include aeronautics, armaments, combat vehicles, electronics, instrumentation engineering systems, missiles, materials, naval systems, advanced computing, simulation and life sciences.
    • DRDO while striving to meet the cutting edge weapons technology requirements provides ample spinoff benefits to the society at large thereby contributing to the nation building.

    Anti-Satellite (A-SAT) missile: Anti-satellite weapons are space weapons designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes.

    Interceptor missiles: Consist of a three-stage booster rocket (meaning three engines are used in succession), and a “kill vehicle,” which travels alone after the last booster separates. Using intercept data, the kill vehicle is guided toward an intercept point, where it views the target using its own sensors. From there, using small thrusters to adjust its direction, the interceptor attempts to track and collide with the incoming warhead.

    Outer Space Treaty of 1967:  prohibits countries from placing into orbit around the Earth “any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction”. It also prohibits the stationing of such weapons on celestial bodies, like the moon, or in outer space. India is a signatory of it.



Analysis

India's stand on outer space:

  • India has been participating in all sessions of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
  • India supported UNGA resolution 69/32 on No First Placement of Weapons on Outer Space.
  • India supports the substantive consideration of the issue of Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) in the Conference on Disarmament where it has been on the agenda since 1982.
  • The Outer Space Treaty (of which India is a member) prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons.

Why India's 'Mission Shakti' has a lot of ground to cover:

  1. Space is occupied by multiple satellites of many countries. The ASAT weapon won't give any strategic advantage, no country is dependent on one satellite.
  2. Most medium and long-range ballistic missiles reach apogees well above 300 kilometers, and it's not that simple to destroy them.

 Concern for space debris

  • The test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there is no space debris.
  • Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks.

If not, Why space debris is such a big problem

  • Anything launched into the space remains in space, almost forever, unless it is specifically brought down or slowly disintegrate over decades or centuries.
  • Satellites that are past their life and are no longer required remain in space, orbiting aimlessly in some orbit.
  • According to the September 2018 issue of Orbital Debris Quarterly News, published by NASA, there were 19,137 man-made objects in space that were large enough to be tracked.
  • The threat from the space debris is that it could collide with the operational satellites and render them dysfunctional.

When China carried out its first anti-satellite missile test in 2007, destroying its Fengyun-1C weather satellite, it created more than 2,300 large pieces of space debris.Each of them could render a satellite useless on collision.

The satellite hit during the Indian test, as stated, was orbiting at 300 km from Earth’s surface.

Analysis of the Chinese test of 2007, which had targeted the satellite placed at more than 800 km from Earth’s surface, had created debris that would remain in space for several decades, possibly centuries.

Does the ASAT carry warhead?

  • The launch missile doesn't carry any explosive, but just puts itself in the path of the satellite.
  • The kinetic energy of the impact is much more than any high explosive it should otherwise carry, so there is no point putting a bomb on it.

What signal does the Mission Shakti test send to the world?

  • Mission Shakti has shown that India is capable of bringing down a satellite, and disrupting communication.
  • Targeting satellites in the higher orbits, however, is only a matter of scale — of powering the rockets enough to go deeper in the space.
  • Many of the most strategic satellites are placed in orbits that 30,000 km from earth’s surface or even higher.
  • DRDO scientists have claimed that India has the technology to target these as well.

Chronology of anti-satellite tests:

  • The first anti-satellite test (ASAT) was carried out by the US military way back in 1959.
  • The then Soviet Union followed a year later.
  • Thereafter, the two countries carried out a series of such tests up till early 1980s
  • After that there was a lull, broken only by the Chinese test in 2007.

What are the other ways to make enemy satellite useless?

  • In the last few years, countries have explored alternative options of making enemy satellites dysfunctional
  • Technologies have been developed to jam the communication from the satellites by interfering with its radio signals
  • Possibility of sending satellites that could just approach a target close enough to deviate it from its selected orbit, without destroying it
  • Several countries and organisations including China, Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency are said to be working on developing these ‘close proximity’ anti-satellite technologies.
  • The third option is the possible use of ground-based lasers to ‘dazzle’ the sensors of the satellites
  • This makes them at least “partially blind” so that they are unable to work efficiently.

Utilization and challenges of satellite age:

  • Satellites are extremely critical infrastructure.
  • These include navigation systems, communication networks, broadcasting, banking systems, stock markets, weather forecasting, disaster management, land and ocean mapping and monitoring tools, and military applications.
  • Destroying a satellite would render these applications useless.
  • It can cripple enemy infrastructure, and bring it down on knees, without causing any threat to human lives.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

India’s space capabilities neither threaten any country nor directed against anyone. Discuss with reference to Mission Shakti and its implications on space weaponisation.

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