India’s ballistic space missile test last week put the International Space Station in peril of a deadly collision with space debris, NASA said in a rebuke to the world’s newest space power.
At a town hall event Monday NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said:
“Here’s what we know about the most recent direct ascent anti-satellite test that was done by India. We know that we have identified 400 pieces of orbital debris from that one event. That’s what’s been identified. Now all of that cannot be tracked.”
The debris from India’s orbital deployment of a space missile to destroy one of its own satellites in a test and a warning to its rival neighbor Pakistan increased the space station’s risk of a collision with small debris by 44 percent in a period of 10 days.
Bridenstine added that NASA is tracking the largest pieces of debris, and that some of the shrapnel from the missile explosion is 10cm or larger in size:
“What we are tracking right now, objects big enough to track, we’re talking about ten centimeters or bigger, about 60 pieces have been tracked. In other words they’ve got a tracking number and we’re able to keep up with where they are. Of those 60, we know that 24 of them are going above the apogee of the International Space Station.”
According to the European Space Agency, space debris as small as 1 cm across could critically damage the Space Station and endanger all the lives aboard, while anything 10 cm and above could “shatter a satellite or spacecraft into pieces.”
“That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris in an apogee that goes above the International Space Station. And that kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human space flight that we need to see happen.”
NASA’s Jim Bridenstine concluded his remarks Monday with a broad view of what else is at stake other than the astronaut’s very lives in keeping armed conflict out of low Earth orbit:
“We are charged with enabling more activities in space that we have never seen before, for the purpose of benefiting the human condition whether it’s pharmaceutical, or printing human organs in 3D to save lives here on Earth, or manufacturing capabilities in space that you’re not able to do in a gravity well.
All of those are placed at risk when these kinds of events happen. And when one country does it other countries feel like they have to do it as well.”
The reckless unilateral missile test by the Indian government was the latest and most terrible escalation in a regional cold war with Pakistan that is getting dangerously hot.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi bragged after the missile test that India is now a “space power” along with only three other world governments: the USA, Russia, and China.
That Modi is facing a general election next month raises questions as to whether his motives in ordering last week’s missile test are for the good of the Indian people and world, or to score political points to win an election.
This international crisis has precipitated renewed discussion over the future of humanity and space travel, and how to ensure space is commercialized for humanity’s benefit instead of militarized for human death and destruction.
Although India is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the treaty only prohibits the use of celestial bodies like the Moon for bellicose purposes.
The only off-limits deployment of military kinetic actions in Earth orbit is the use of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) in space.
The treaty is apparently in need of an update for a comprehensive ban of conventional bombardments originating from or targeting objects in Earth orbit.
Watch the entire NASA town hall: