International Space Station Threatened By Space Junk After Indian Satellite Destroyed In Test

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The International Space Station is now threatened by hundreds of pieces of space junk after India destroyed a derelict satellite in a test, Digital Trends is reporting.

On March 27, India launched a missile into space toward one of its own derelict satellites in an effort to test their anti-satellite missile system. It was a success, in that it destroyed the satellite, as intended. However, it also blew the satellite into hundreds of pieces, and in the process, littered the section of space it formerly occupied with hundreds of pieces of orbital debris – that is, space junk.

Much of that space junk, at least 24 pieces of which are larger than four inches in diameter, remains at an altitude at which the International Space Station flies, putting the craft and its occupants in danger, says NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. Calling India’s test “not compatible with the future of human spaceflight,” Bridenstine was clear that the Indian government needs to consider other countries’ use of space before carrying out similar such tests.

“It’s unacceptable and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is.”

India, for its part, insists that the debris is at a low enough altitude that it will all fall to Earth “in a few weeks.” NASA says otherwise, saying that some of the debris is well within the altitude of the space station, where it could stay for years. Bridenstine did admit, however, that the debris will eventually fall back to Earth, mitigating the problem over time.

The space junk problem

Ever since the Space Race began in the 1950s, humans have been practically littering space with debris. This debris includes derelict satellites, pieces of equipment from various missions, junked rocket parts, and even chips of paint – millions of them are currently zipping through space at speeds exceeding 17,500 miles per hour. If such a piece collided with a manned spacecraft or an astronaut on a spacewalk, the results could be catastrophic.

NASA is currently tracking 23,000 pieces of space junk that are over four inches in diameter, but that doesn’t include the millions of other, smaller pieces.

“A new arms race” in space

Beyond the immediate and practical problem of even more space junk littering low-Earth orbit, India’s test represents a larger, philosophical problem with space: The problem of nations sending armed craft into space with little to no regard to other nations’ equipment that’s up there.

With little in the way of meaningful international law governing what goes into space, critics fear that India’s test represents a “new arms race” in space, a situation that Bridenstine fears could jeopardize further space exploration.