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Indian space-tech start-ups laud United Nations resolution on banning ASAT tests

Anti-satellite weapons are space weapons designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic or tactical purposes

January 18, 2023 / 04:51 PM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

Even as India abstained from voting at the recent United Nations resolution to ban anti-sat (ASAT) tests, the Indian space tech start-up ecosystem lauded the resolution which is aimed at ensuring outer space sustainability.

Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) are space weapons designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic or tactical purposes. Such weapons create a large amount of debris that threaten the safety of other satellites.

On December 12, 2022, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution wherein it said that many nation-states expressed concern about space debris, and termed it as the "most significant threat to the space environment", and the "intentional destruction of satellites" as "exacerbating such threats".

The UNGA called upon nations to commit not to conduct destructive ASAT missile tests, and adopted the resolution, among other resolutions on arms control and related topics. However, this resolution is largely symbolic in nature and signatories can still carry out tests if they decide to in the future.

"ASAT tests create unnecessary and very dangerous debris in the low earth orbit (the most productive and crowded orbit range) and threaten current and future satellite constellations due to the small size of the debris created," Awais Ahmed, founder and CEO of Pixxel, told Moneycontrol.

In 2022, Pixxel launched its hyperspectral satellites Shakuntala and Anand aboard a SpaceX and ISRO rocket respectively.

Reiterating the same, Skyroot Aerospace's co-founder Pawan Kumar Chandana said, "ASAT tests create a lot of debris in orbit which is harmful to space assets like satellites, space station etc. as they increase the chance of collision. For example, Russian ASAT test created debris which still makes the ISS manoeuvre to avoid collision."

Last year, Skyroot's Vikram-S became the first privately manufactured rocket to launch into space.

Pixxel's Ahmed said ASAT tests can lead to the Kessler Syndrome -- a chain reaction that occurs when the debris from the ASAT tests creates more debris when it hits other spacecraft, which in turn creates more debris that hits other spacecraft and so on.

"Eventually, this could lead to there being so much debris that space becomes unusable. This is precisely why this resolution is important not only to reduce debris in space but to actually protect humanity’s star-faring future," Ahmed explained.

On January 3, Bengaluru-based Digantara successfully launched its Pushan-Alpha satellite from a SpaceX rocket. The two-year-old start-up is offering solutions in space situational awareness, which means understanding the orbital environment better.

The start-up's CEO Aniruh Sharma explained, "Kinetic anti-satellite tests, particularly direct ascent and co-orbital, are extremely hazardous to the orbital environment. These tests can contribute to exponential increase in debris population if carried out in upper orbits with the possibilities that the generated debris can stay for hundreds of years."

"Furthermore, such collisions also result in the creation of debris between 1 cm and 10 cm, that are lethal but difficult to track, resulting in increased risk in the near-Earth Orbit," Sharma explained.

India's abstention

"India has always been a strong proponent of peaceful and sustainable use of outer space. The signing of such a resolution is not usually a straight-forward event, as a state needs to consider a multitude of things to ensure its sovereignty is protected," Sharma said.

"However, with this resolution being largely symbolic there is no value add and has no actual implications on sustainability of outer space. We are very hopeful that India will support a resolution on ASAT tests when they are put forth with a binding resolution and has definitive impact provided its sovereignty is ensured," he added.

Aihik Sur covers tech policy, drones, space tech among other beats at Moneycontrol
first published: Jan 18, 2023 04:51 pm