NASA slams India's ASAT missile test, flags risk to International Space Station

ASAT debris collage A collage of the ASAT missile launch (PIB) and an artist conception of a satellite breakup, generating debris (NASA)

The head of NASA on Monday criticised India's test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile as a “terrible thing”, which created orbital debris that could cause new dangers for astronauts on the International Space Station.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed the ASAT missile test, conducted on March 27, had created around 400 pieces of orbital debris. Bridenstine was addressing NASA employees in a townhall event.

Commenting on the ASAT missile test, Bridenstine noted, it “is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station.” He added “that kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human space flight. It's unacceptable and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is."

Explaining that not all pieces of debris from the ASAT missile test was big enough of track, Bridenstine said NASA had tracked approximately 60 pieces, which were around 10cm or more in size. Of these, around 24 pieces were going above the apogee of the International Space Station. Bridenstine noted as a result of the Indian ASAT missile test, the risk of collision for the International Space Station had increased by 44 per cent over 10 days.

The International Space Station was launched in 1998 for the purpose of furthering research and is operated by the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, and the participating countries of the European Space Agency. According to the NASA web page on the International Space Station, it is the largest space station ever constructed and has been visited by astronauts from 18 nations.

The US military tracks space debris constantly. Of the 10,000 pieces of space debris, nearly 3,000 were created when China carried out its first ASAT missile test in 2007, destroying a satellite at a height of 530 miles. India's ASAT missile was tested at a lower height of around 186 miles.