On 27 March 2019, the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the Indian government carried out Mission Shakti, India’s first, successful anti-satellite missile experiment. The proof of concept technology was launched from the A P J Abdul Kalam Island launch complex in Odisha.
Shortly after Modi’s announcement, a Ministry of External Affairs report made short work of announcing and confirming that the test was a success, and achieved all its planned goals.
Mission Shakti intercept the satellite in outer space with a completely indigenous technology built by the DRDO. India joins an exclusive group of space-faring nations consisting of USA, Russia, and China.
What missiles were used in the test?
The DRDO’s Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) interceptor was used, which is part of the ongoing ballistic missile defence programme, the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed in a statement.
According to experts, the satellite brought down in the mission was one of India’s existing satellites – the MicroSAT-R, launched on the PSLV-C44 mission by ISRO on 25 January 2019.
The missile and the anti-satellite technology in the mission were capabilities developed indigenously in a first for the country.
How and why was the Mission Shakti test done?
India’s space program has grown and “expanded rapidly in the last five years”, with the success of the Mangalyaan mission to Mars, progress towards the Gaganyaan mission in 2021 and other developmental missions for the PSLV rocket. According to the official press release, the anti-missile tests were done after the DRDO and government had enough confidence that it would be a success.
India announced back in 2012 that it had already cracked the technology for an anti-satellite missile demonstration. It has since tested ballistic missiles that have that capability, but Mission Shakti is the first time that India actually intercepted a satellite in a demonstration, using of its missiles and “anti-satellite”.
“India has today established itself as a global space power,” Modi said in his address. “So far, just three countries in the world — USA, Russia, and China — have had this capability.”
What about 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,” the official statement reads.
That said, it is still unclear the exact effect the A-SAT test had in low-Earth orbit. While no space debris or accidents have been reported so far, the United States Air Force’s Satellite tracking network will reportedly assess just how many pieces were created in the hours and days to come. Destroying satellites in orbit could potentially create hundreds of pieces, small and large, that can remain in space for years. China destroyed a retired weather satellite in 2007 in a similar ASAT test. The test created 3,000 tiny objects, many of which are still in orbit a decade after the incident.
While the anti-missile may have been a targeted one, the impact can’t be fully contained, controlled or predicated. Some experts are doubtful that the test has considered the consequences.
“In the course of weeks and months, that stream will get broader and wider and more diffused,” Marco Langbroek, a satellite tracker and consultant for the Dutch Air Force’s Space Security division, told The Verge.
Is this India’s entry into the space arms race?
“India has no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space,” the release says. “We have always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes… we are against weaponization of space, and support international efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space-based assets.”
The key international treaty on outer space protocol is the Outer Space Treaty, which came into force in October 1967. India signed the treaty in March 1967, but it took was only 15 years later that the Parliamentary approved it, in 1982.
“The Outer Space Treaty prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons,” the official press release clarified. “India is not in violation of any international law or Treaty to which it is a party or any national obligation.”
The information note continues to say that India had called for “substantive consideration” of the proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) treaty in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament. While years have passed since the agenda of the Geneva-based CD came into the open, US has been blocking these negotiations consistently since its passing in the United Nations.
Each year, the UN General Assembly attempts to negotiate the PAROS treaty with votes, and the treaty has the overwhelming support of all countries every year, except for the US and Israel, which are still abstaining.
Mission Shakti demonstrated India’s ambition and footprints, both of which are growing in space technology and demonstration.
Last year, the government approved a budget of $1.43 billion for the first manned mission to space by 2022.