Mission Shakti -India Now a Space Super Power, “ASAT-Anti Satellite Weapons”

What is an ASAT?

ASATs (Anti-Satellite Weapons) are aimed at destroying or disabling space assets, whether military or civilian, offensive or defensive, according to a document of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR). Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) are space weapons designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes. Several nations possess operational ASAT systems. Although no ASAT system has yet been utilised in warfare, a few nations have shot down their own satellites to demonstrate their ASAT capabilities in a show of force. Only the United States, Russia (using MSB[clarification needed] expertise), China, and India have demonstrated this capability successfully.

They are missile-based systems to attack moving satellites. So far the United States, China and Russia were the only ones who’ve reported the ability to shoot down space objects from ground or airborne sources.
They are generally of two types: kinetic and non-kinetic.

Kinetic ASATs: 

They must physically strike an object in order to destroy it. Examples of kinetic ASATs include ballistic missiles, drones that drag an object out of orbit or detonate explosives in proximity to the object, or any item launched to coincide with the passage of a target satellite.

This means any space asset, even a communications satellite, could become an ASAT if it is used to physically destroy another space object.
Non-kinetic ASATs: 

A variety of nonphysical means can be used to disable or destroy a space object.

These include frequency jamming, blinding lasers or cyberattacks. These methods can also render an object useless without causing the target to break up and fragment absent additional forces intervening.

Guidelines suggested for ASAT tests: 

In 2018, the UNIDIR proposed three ASAT test guidelines. Under the ‘No Debris’ guideline, if an actor wishes to test ASAT capabilities, they should not create debris.

If an actor must create debris during an ASAT test, it should be carried out at an altitude sufficiently low that the debris will not be long-lived.

It also suggested that actors testing ASATs should notify others of their activities (even if they are not completely transparent on the motivation behind the test) to avoid misperceptions or misinterpretations.

However, there is no consensus among the space-faring nations on the guidelines.

“We are working on different measures, but nothing has been formally adopted,” Daniel Porras, Space Security Fellow at UNIDIR, said.

ASAT Trip

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 majority of satellites are concentrated. A database from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non government organisation based in the United States, says that there are at least 5 known Indian satellites in LEO: India PiSat, Resourcesat 2, Radar Imaging Satellites 1 and2 and SRMsat.

ASAT -India Now A Space Super Power

What’s new about India’s ASAT system?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday announced the success of ‘Mission Shakti,’ an operation that demonstrated India’s anti-satellite missile capability by shooting down a live satellite. He described it as a “rare achievement” that puts the country in an exclusive club of space super powers.

The satellite was about 300 km away from earth but no details were shared regarding its ownership and what the satellite was used for and what were the reasons for choosing that particular satellite for the test.

India’s ASAT development has a long history with Dr V.K. Saraswat, Director-General of the Defence Research and Development Organisation stating in 2012 that India had “all the building blocks necessary” to integrate an anti-satellite weapon to neutralise hostile satellites in low earth and polar orbits. However there was never any formal announcement of such a mission.

The development of such systems has a long history — fuelled by the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union — with a waxing or waning of funding. There are different kinds of systems — those that can be launched from the ground or those vaulted from planes.

In the Cold War/Space Race era, 1985 was the last time that the United States had used an anti-satellite system to destroy its P-781 satellite that had instruments aboard to study solar radiation.

Anti-satellite weapons came back into popular currency after China conducted an anti-satellite missile test on January 11, 2007. The government officially confirmed this only on the January 23, after reports in several US media. The target was a Chinese weather satellite — the FY-1C – that sailed at an altitude of 865 kilometres (537 mi). A year later, the United States launched ‘Operation Burnt Frost,’ the code name to intercept and destroy a non-functioning U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite named USA-193.

Consider the following statements with regards to anti satellite (ASAT) weapons

1. They are missile-based systems to attack moving satellites. 
2. India successfully conducted an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test, named Mission Shakti.
3. India has become the fifth country in the world to have such capabilities. 
4. ASAT missiles are part of Indian Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) programme.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
[A] 1,2,3 only
[B] 1,2 only
[C] 1,2,4 only
[D] All of the above

What are anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons?
• They are missile-based systems to attack moving satellites. 
• So far the United States, China and Russia were the only ones who’ve reported the ability to shoot down space objects from ground or airborne sources.
• The development of such systems has a long history — fuelled by the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union — with a waxing or waning of funding.

Related information:
• There are different kinds of systems — those that can be launched from the ground or those vaulted from planes.
• In the Cold War/Space Race era, 1985 was the last time that the United States had used an anti-satellite system to destroy its P-781 satellite that had instruments aboard to study solar radiation.
• Anti-satellite weapons came back into popular currency after China conducted an anti-satellite missile test on January 11, 2007. The government officially confirmed this only on the January 23, after reports in several US media.
• The target was a Chinese weather satellite — the FY-1C – that sailed at an altitude of 865 kilometres (537 mi). 
• A year later, the United States launched ‘Operation Burnt Frost,’ the code name to intercept and destroy a non-functioning U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite named USA-193.

What are India’s capabilities so far?
• 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. Radars at different locations swung into action, tracking the “enemy” missile, constructing its trajectory and passing on the information in real time to the Mission Control Centre (MCC) to launch the interceptor, an Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile. 
• It had a directional warhead to go close to the adversarial missile before exploding to inflict damage on it.

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 majority of satellites are concentrated. 
• A database from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non government organisation based in the United States, says that there are at least 5 known Indian satellites in LEO: India PiSat, Resourcesat 2, Radar Imaging Satellites 1 and2 and SRMsat.

Indian missile launches from its underground silo launch facility, 3D rendering

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