Space debris created by India’s first successful anti-satellite missile test is still orbiting the Earth more than seven weeks after the country claimed it should have decayed.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics revealed that 41 separate pieces of debris created by the test were still orbiting Earth. Additionally, the 41 pieces are only those big enough for astronomers to track. There could be several smaller pieces with debris as small as a paint chip capable of damaging billion-dollar satellites.
McDowell loosely predicted that it would likely take “a year or so” for all the debris to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, a far cry from the 45 days originally claimed by Indian authorities.
In addition to there still being debris from the test orbiting Earth, it has been found that some of that debris is orbiting at an altitude at and above the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS). Following the test in March, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine came out publically against it and lamented the risk the debris posed to the station and its crew.
“That is a terrible, terrible thing, to create an event that sends debris into an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” said Bridenstine. “While the risk went up 44 percent, our astronauts are still safe. The International Space Station is still safe.”
Although much of the spotlight has been placed on India, the country is not the first nor will they be the last to test anti-satellite missiles. The US, Russia and China have previously conducted several ASAT (anti-satellite weapons) tests. Additionally, Israel is working on its own anti-satellite missile, which it is likely to test in future.