Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics etc.
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Mission Shakti, ASAT
Mains level: Strategic significance of the Mission Shakti
- In an incremental advance, India has successfully conducted an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test, named Mission Shakti.
- India becomes the fourth country in the world to demonstrate the capability to shoot down satellites in orbit.
- So far, only the United States, Russia and China have this prowess.
- While Mission Shakti may have targeted an object in outer space, India has long developed the ability to intercept incoming missiles.
- In 2011, a modified Prithvi missile mimicked the trajectory of a ballistic missile with a 600-km range.
- The DRDO-developed Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Interceptor Missile successfully engaged an Indian orbiting target satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in a ‘Hit to Kill’ mode.
- The interceptor missile was a three-stage missile with two solid rocket boosters.
What are low earth orbit satellites?
- The Indian satellite that was shot down was a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite.
- These are satellites roughly at an altitude of 2,000 kilometres from the earth and that’s the region where the majority of satellites are concentrated.
ASAT through history
- ASAT is the technological capability to hit and destroy satellites in space through missiles launched from the ground.
- ASAT weapon systems have a long history and were a product of the Cold War hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union.
- They came back into popular currency after China conducted an anti-satellite missile test on Jan 2007.
- The target was a Chinese weather satellite — the FY-1C – that sailed at an altitude of 865 km. (537 mi).
- A year later, the US launched ‘Operation Burnt Frost,’ the code name to intercept and destroy a non-functioning satellite named USA-193.
Why target satellites?
- Satellites are extremely critical infrastructure of any country these days. A large number of crucial applications are now satellite-based.
- These include navigation systems, communication networks, broadcasting, banking systems, stock markets, weather forecasting, disaster management, and military applications etc.
- Destroying a satellite would render these applications useless.
- It can cripple enemy infrastructure, and bring it down on knees, without causing any threat to human lives.
Problem of space debris
- Anything launched into the space remains in space, almost forever, unless it is specifically brought down or slowly disintegrates over decades or centuries.
- Satellites that are past their life and are no longer required also remain in space, orbiting aimlessly in some orbit.
- According to the NASA, there were 19,137 man-made objects in space that were large enough to be tracked.
- These included active and inactive satellites, rockets and their parts, and other small fragments.
- A satellite that is destroyed by a missile disintegrates into small pieces, and adds to the space debris.
- The threat from the space debris is that it could collide with the operational satellites and render them dysfunctional.