India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has confirmed that the country has performed a test of an anti-satellite missile successfully striking a target satellite in low Earth orbit. The test is seen by many as extremely irresponsible given the potential for harm to other satellites in low Earth orbit.
During a television broadcast following the test, Modi confirmed that the country had successfully destroyed a target satellite in low Earth orbit. “Some time ago, our scientists shot down a live satellite 300 kilometres away in space”. He described the test as a historic feat for the country stating, “India has made an unprecedented achievement today. India registered its name as a space power.”
Most nations capable of anti-satellite missile development have abandoned in orbit testing due to the potential of what is commonly referred to as the Kessler Effect.
The Kessler Effect was first described by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978. It proposed a scenario in which the destruction of an orbiting satellite (either by debris or an intentional strike) could cause a cascade of destruction that couldn’t be stopped. Once complete, the Earth would be shrouded in a blanket of debris making it impossible to launch or place new satellites.
Despite the potential for harm, India is not the first nation to complete an in-orbit test of an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT). From the 1960s to the 1980s, both Russia and the United States successfully tested multiple ASAT prototypes. More recently, China completed an ASAT test in 2007, the US destroyed a malfunctioning spy satellite in 2008, and Russia completed as many as three ASAT tests just last year.