India's race to claim Space
India is now in the 'space super league', PM Modi declared while addressing the nation yesterday. By successfully demonstrating its capability to 'interdict and intercept a satellite in outer space based on complete indigenous technology', India has now entered the elite league of space powers, which so far, has included only USA, Russia, and China. Under Mission Shakti, on March 27, India shot down a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite with its Anti-Satellite (A-SAT) weapon for the very first time. The achievement is commendable, no doubt, any advancement in science for positive gains must be applauded and further nurtured. ISRO and DRDO deserve many kudos; for the ruling party though, who championed this project after it failed to gain flight under the previous UPA government – positive declarations, well-timed prior to a crucial Lok Sabha election, only appear as gateways to further captivate the public. Wing Commander Abhinandan move over, it's now time for Mission Shakti. The US first tested the A-SAT missile in 1958, shortly followed by USSR in 1964 and later, by China, in 2007. 2019 was India's turn. However, India has had access to the requisite technology for building A-SAT missiles since 2012. In fact, India's indigenous Agni V ballistic missile had earlier demonstrated capabilities of bringing down incoming satellites, though a test had never been officially sanctioned. This time, with the government's nod on required sanctions and after approval from scientists at DRDO and ISRO, India launched its indigenous A-SAT missile under Mission Shakti and brought down its own LEO satellite, thus establishing its position as the world's fourth space power. The entire operation of locating, decimating, and confirming was conducted in three minutes, centred 300 km away from Earth. Space weapons, though less discussed, remain a contentious issue on many fronts. India has not violated any norms and has declared unequivocally that its test was not meant as an attack towards any country and is only dedicated to national security and scientific advancement. In fact, the principal treaty on space, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, of which India is a signatory, singularly prohibits the use of weapons of mass destruction in space. A-SAT, an ordinary missile, doesn't overstep regulations. China had earlier received some flak for testing its A-SAT weapon, which had left behind considerable debris in space. India though has worked her way by acknowledging the concern of space debris (detrimental to future operations) and conducting its test in the lower orbit, where the debris decays in a short span of time. This 'technological mission', carried out by DRDO in Odisha's Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Island launch complex, has been a result of the unblemished 'precision and technical capability' of India's defence and space scientists. While their contributions cannot be impugned, clamours around indicate a deliberate, pre-meditated move at making the announcement days before the first phase of polling rolls out on April 11. The timeframe has been questioned, though experts assure that the window between March and mid-May is most suitable for testing satellites, missiles, etc., in outer space. However, the fact that PM Modi, who has appeared everywhere across the country in last-minute rallies, took time out from his exhausting campaign schedule to address the nation on a subject few truly understand – raises questions on intent. Was it a celebration of science, technology and India's steady growth towards achieving a 'space power' status or was it a celebration of the ruling party, who was in power as the country stepped towards this historic achievement? The duty of a government is to achieve excellence for the country and fulfilling that duty can never be to the credit of any political party, who, by the way, are the least trusted (as per a recent public opinion survey conducted in 12 states prior to elections). Bringing this announcement weeks before general elections, if anything, dilutes the credibility of India's ruling party. The Model Code of Conduct for Elections doesn't apply to the sphere of national security. The Prime Minister, thus, did not require the EC's nod and could go on with his broadcast on Doordarshan and All India Radio. Now, no matter how much the Opposition opposes, the PM has a clean chit and commendable recognition to his credit. Never mind the election clamours, the achievement is historic; largely as it celebrates innovation and technology – keys to ensuring a successful democracy, particularly one that is marked by youth and diversity. And, finally, the PM's address that was awaited with anxiety by most, fearing another demonetisation, ended well for all – India is a reckoning power, at least in space, nobody's money is going anywhere and advertisers have a new slogan – after all, Shakti deserves her Abhinandan too.