India’s anti-satellite event a ‘terrible, terrible thing’ says NASA
NASA chief said while the risk of the ISS went up 44 percent, the astronauts are still safe.
NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine said that India’s decision to shoot down one of its own satellites is a terrible thing. "It's unacceptable and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is," he said on 1 April, speaking at a live streamed Town Hall gathering of NASA employees.
This statement from Bridenstine makes it the first top official from the Trump administration to come out in public against India's ASAT test.
On 27 March, India announced that it had successfully carried out “Mission Shakti”—an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test—where it destroyed one of the country’s satellites. This event led India to become the fourth nation to complete such a test following the United States, Russia, and China.
"When one country does it, other countries feel like they have to do it as well," said Bridenstine.
NASA said that this event has put the International Space Station at risk. About 400 pieces of orbital debris were created. Only 60 pieces—larger than 10cm—have been tracked so far, of which 24 have gone above the apogee of the International Space Station (ISS).
"An assessment that comes from NASA experts as well as the Joint Space Operations Center—part of US Strategic Command—is that the risk to the International Space Station has increased by 44 percent over a period of ten days," said Bridenstine. The silver lining is that the debris is present low enough in the earth’s orbit that over time, this will dissipate.
Addressing the commercialisation of low earth orbit, Bridenstine said, "We are charged with enabling more activities in space than we've ever seen before for the purpose of benefiting the human condition.” He added that such events pose a big risk to the world.
Bridenstine said a lot of debris from the 2007 direct ascent anti-satellite test by China is still in space. "We're still dealing with it. We as a nation are responsible for doing space situational awareness and space traffic management, conjunction analysis for the entire world," he said.
Bridenstine highlighted the burden of such events caused by another country on the United States. He said, "Why do we do that as a nation? Because it's the right thing to do because we want to preserve the space environment.” He added that the country is doing it for free with its taxpayers' money. The US is currently tracking about 23,000 pieces of orbital debris that are at least 10 cm.
"At the end of the day we need to be clear with everybody in the world, we're the only agency in the federal government that has human lives at stake here. And it is not acceptable for us to allow people to create orbital debris fields that put at risk our people," he said.