The head of NASA on Monday branded India’s devastation of one of its satellites a “terrible thing” that had created 400 pieces of orbital dust and debris and led to new dangers for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Jim Bridenstine was addressing employees of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) five days after India shot down a low-orbiting satellite in a missile test to prove it was among the world’s advanced space powers.
Certainly not all of the pieces were big enough to track, Bridenstine clearly explained. “What we are tracking right now, objects big enough to track — we’re speaking about 10 centimeters (six inches) or bigger — about 60 pieces have been tracked.”
The Indian satellite was ruined at a relatively low altitude of 300 km, well below the ISS and most satellites in orbit. However 24 of the pieces “are going above the apogee of the International Space Station,” stated Bridenstine.
“That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” he continued, adding: “That kind of process is not suitable for the future of human spaceflight.”
“It’s not acceptable and NASA does need to be very clear about what its consequence to us is.”
The US military keeps track of objects in space to predict the collision risk for the ISS and for satellites. They are currently tracking 23,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters.
That also includes about 10,000 pieces of space debris, of which just about 3,000 were created by a single event: a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007 at 530 miles from the surface.
As a consequence of the Indian test, the danger of collision with the ISS has raised by 44 percent over 10 days, Bridenstine stated.
However the risk is going to dissipate over time as much of the debris will burn up as it enters the atmosphere.