NASA claims India's space missile test threatened International Space Station

Key Points
  • India shot down a satellite with an anti-satellite missile and joins a group of world powers with such capability.
  • Now NASA says the test was a threat to the International Space Station.
  • India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of using activities in space as political stunts.
NASA says India's missile tests threatened the International Space Station

NASA has sharply criticized India's missile destruction of a satellite in space, suggesting the test could have damaged the International Space Station.

Indian space research has accelerated in recent years and in 2014, India became the fourth country with a probe orbiting Mars. Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India had now become the fourth country to successfully use military firepower in space by destroying a satellite.

But speaking to staff Monday, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said the risk of debris colliding with the ISS had risen sharply since the test.

"I'm talking about small debris impacts to the International Space Station, the risk went up 44 percent over a period of 10 days," Bridenstine said. "The good thing is, it's low enough in Earth orbit that over time, this will all dissipate."

Bridenstine said the anti-satellite weapon created at least 400 pieces of debris, including 60 fragments that are 4 inches across or larger. He said 24 of those fragments had ended up in orbits with high points above the 255-mile altitude of the space station.

The NASA boss, while speaking to the staff as part of a town hall meeting that was livestreamed by NASA TV, said while the International Space Station was still safe, the test was a "terrible, terrible thing." It was "not compatible with the future of human spaceflight," he said.

Last week Shambhu Hakki, a spokesperson for the Indian Embassy in Washington, wrote in an email to CNBC that test was done in the lower atmosphere to mitigate space debris and that any space junk generated will "decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks."

India's test, dubbed "Mission Shakti," was carried out by the Defense Research and Development Organization. "India has no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space. We have always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes," Hakki said.

While the test established India as a space power, Modi has been criticized by political parties across the country for using this as a political stunt ahead of general elections set to take place later this month.

—CNBC's Michael Sheetz and Amanda Macias contributed to this report.

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