Last week, India blew apart one of its satellites orbiting Earth. The destruction caused thousands of pieces of debris which created a mess in space.
India intentionally shot down one of its own satellites with a rocket last week. This caused the debris to reach high enough into Earth’s orbit. Therefore, threatening the safety of the International Space Station, according to the head of NASA.
NASA is calling India’s destruction of their satellite a “terrible, terrible thing.”
Jim Bridenstine, the NASA Administrator, told employees on Monday that the event posed an “unacceptable” threat to astronauts on board the ISS.
“That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris in an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” Bridenstine said. “That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human space flight that we need to see happen.”
Bridenstine said the shattered satellite created debris large enough to threaten the station but not large enough to track.
NASA identified 400 pieces of debris, about 60 of which are trackable and at least 10 centimeters in size.
“What we are tracking right now, objects big enough to track — we’re talking about 10 cm (4 inches) or bigger —about 60 pieces have been tracked,” Bridenstine said.
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In calculating the Indian test’s potential impact last week, he said NASA determined that the risk of small debris hitting the space station was increased by 44 percent over a period of 10 days.
“It’s unacceptable, and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is,” Bridenstine said.
The space station, launched in 1998 and orbits about 250 miles above Earth. Six crew members are currently living aboard the ISS.
However, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week tweeted that the mission was a “highly complex one, conducted at extremely high speed with remarkable precision. It shows the remarkable dexterity of India’s outstanding scientists and the success of our space programme.”
India’s top scientists say that the country expected the debris to burn out in Earth’s atmosphere in less than 45 days. They also mentioned that they targeted the low-altitude military satellite with the goal of reducing the risk of debris.
“That’s why we did it at lower altitude — it will vanish in no time,” G. Satheesh Reddy, the chief of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation told Reuters. “The debris is moving right now. How much debris, we are trying to work out, but our calculations are it should be dying down within 45 days.”
India joins the U.S., China, and Russia as one of the few countries to successfully shoot down a space object.
Thumbnail image: A simulation of space debris created by India’s “Mission Shakti” anti-satellite missile test. Credit: Analytical Graphics Inc.