Seeking our space
While the matter of space debris following the test of the anti-satellite (ASAT) missile was only gaining more ground among concerned citizens, the anti-satellite weapon launch under Mission Shakti has already left a pile of debris of about 300 pieces 300 kilometres above the Earth. The most immediate concern right now is if this might jeopardise the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) today from Sriharikota. The launched PSLV will have to traverse through the belt of debris left by the satellite shoot-down, risking collision to a great extent. With a new rocket part of the ballistic missile defence system on March 27, India killed its own MicroSAT-R satellite that weighed over 700 kilograms, 300 kilometres above the Earth surface. As per experts, at the given altitude, the super-speed collision of two man-made objects will result in a considerable amount of space debris which is certain to be an obstruction for future launches for the next several weeks at least. Today's satellite launch (also belonging to DRDO as was of March 27) is coming just after six days the orbital collision.
India is not only a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty of January 1967 (the international treaty that obliges the member countries to use the outer space only for peaceful purposes), it is also party to the international programme to remove space debris as much as possible. Former DRDO head VK Saraswat explained to NDTV why space debris is a potential impediment and threat to future space explorations: space already houses millions of debris that float around. Every satellite launch leaves up to 100-150 fragments that may include things from bolts to heatshields to just about anything. These fragments float around because once released in space, nothing comes back; it remains there and continues to spin at the same speed of the satellite it broke off from. Since those fragments are in motion, they can possibly come in that path of other objects that will be propelled on their own trajectory. This is the problem with space debris: the potential threat they pose. Avoiding collision is a standard procedure and this launch demands extra vigilance and precision.
DRDO will also launch PSLV-C45 carrying payload EMISAT and 28 foreign satellites today. Along with the 28 customer satellites from other countries going in this lift-off, there will also be one for electronic intelligence. This event will be a spectacle open to the public but as many will have their gaze fixed towards the sky, there are some question o the ground that won't be silenced. At this juncture when the nation is reeling under unemployment, poverty, hunger, malnutrition, inequalities of myriad kinds, to name a few, the accomplishment in space research looks less bright in contrast with the on-ground realities. While the accomplishment beyond the territorial skies of the country is nothing short of commendable and will give us an edge in the long run, it is the persisting issues disconcerting the common man that need to be addressed more promptly.