U.S. Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan warned any nations contemplating anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests like the one India carried out on Wednesday that they risk making a “mess” in space because of debris fields they can leave behind.
“My message would be: We all live in space, let’s not make it a mess. Space should be a place where we can conduct business. Space is a place where people should have the freedom to operate,” Shanahan said.
India, however, played down risk of debris from the ASAT conducted by the country on Wednesday, with the external affairs ministry saying the impact occurred in low-earth orbit and that the remnants would “decay and fall back on to the earth within weeks”.
Shanahan noted that given the increasing global reliance on space, it was important to create rules of the road for space.
“I think not having rules of engagement is worrisome. So, how people test and develop technologies is important,” he said, adding: “I would expect anyone who tests does not put at risk anyone else’s assets.”
According to experts, anti-satellite weapons that shatter their targets pose a space hazard by creating a cloud of fragments that can collide with other objects, potentially setting off a chain reaction of projectiles through Earth orbit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday announced that India had demonstrated anti-satellite missile capability by shooting down a live satellite, describing it as a rare achievement that puts the country in an exclusive club of space super powers.
India is only the fourth country to acquire such a specialised and modern capability after the US, Russia and China. The test, ‘Mission Shakti’, was successfully held at the Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Island, off the Odisha coast.