India’s quest to become a serious space player just took another big step forward, after the country successfully used a missile to shoot down a satellite.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is hoping for re-election next month, said Wednesday that the test, dubbed Mission Shakti, put his country into the space “super league.”
“A while ago, our scientists shot down a live satellite at a low-earth orbit,” Modi said in a televised address to the nation. “I congratulate all scientists who have made this possible and made India a much stronger nation.”
Both the U.S. and China have conducted similar tests this century, while the Soviet Union did the same in the 1960s and 1970s (though only after the U.S. demonstrated the trick first in 1959.)
India’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Mission Shakti took out a live satellite at an altitude of almost 300 kilometers (186 miles.) This is a pretty low orbit—not as far out as the International Space Station—so it should create relatively little harmful debris compared with China’s messy 2007 anti-satellite test, which took place at around 865 kilometers.
Modi said India’s new capability was not directed against any particular nation but was instead about ensuring national security. “India has no intention to threaten anyone,” he said. “This is an effort to secure a fast growing India. India has always been opposed to the weaponization of space and an arms race in outer space, and this test does not in any way change this position.”
The test is not necessarily seen that way in neighboring Pakistan, however, the airforce of which recently clashed with Indian jets in a flaring-up of tensions over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
“Space is the common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarization of this arena,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in reaction to the Indian test. “We hope that countries which have in the past strongly condemned demonstration of similar capabilities by others will be prepared to work towards developing international instruments to prevent military threats relating to outer space.”
“Boasting of such capabilities is reminiscent of Don Quixote’s tilting against windmills,” the Pakistani statement added, colorfully.
Mission Shakti is the latest step in a flurry of Indian space activity. A couple years back, India made a show of launching 104 satellites at once. The country is also planning to launch a lunar rover in a bid to find water and nuclear fuel in the moon’s crust — that mission, Chandrayaan-2, was supposed to take place last year but is currently scheduled for next month.