Space is the new war arena
History repeated itself once again on March 27 as India’s so-called civil space programme ended up being a military one, like its nuclear programme had. India shot down one of its low-orbit satellites – dubbed ‘Mission Shakti’ – in a nod to the 1998 series of nuclear weapons tests called “Operation Shakti”. Ironically, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took pride in declaring his country a ‘space power’. Contrary to Mr Modi’s belief that the act makes India an elite space superpower, it in fact places it firmly among those behaving irresponsibly in space. NASA has called this test a “terrible, terrible “ thing as it has led to the creation of nearly 400 pieces of orbital debris, endangering the International Space Station.
On March 27, India announced it had successfully conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test, called “Mission Shakti.” After the United States, Russia and China, India is now the fourth country in the world to have demonstrated this capability. Although the destroyed satellite was one of India’s own, the test has caused concerns about the space debris generated, which potentially threatens the operation of functional satellites. The test also comes amid fear over the weaponization of space and the damage that could be unleashed by any possible war that could take place between countries with the ability not only to cause great destruction on Earth but in space too.
The success of the test may be a plus for Prime Minister Modi, who is now trying to win his second term in the April-May election, but it can be viewed as a loss for global security, as nations and regulatory bodies struggle to maintain a view of space as a neutral and conflict-free arena in the face of escalating technological capabilities.
Power and strength
Since the first satellite was launched in 1957 (the Soviet Union’s Sputnik), space has become — and will continue to be — a frontier where big powers enhance their presence by launching and operating their own satellites.
There are currently 1,957 satellites orbiting the Earth. They provide crucial economic, civil and scientific benefits to the world, from generating income to a wide range of services such as navigation, communication, weather forecast and disaster relief.
The tricky thing about satellites is that they can also be used for military and national security purposes, while still serving the civil end: one good example is GPS (global positioning system).
So, it is not surprising big powers are keen to develop their ASAT capabilities.
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