India is nervous about a self-created problem in the space.
It is sending a billion dollar rocket, but it has to cross a potential minefield of debris created by the recent A-Sat test around 300 miles above us.
India is ready to send Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle on April 1 but is on the edge whether the debris will create a problem?
The anti-satellite weapon launched as part of Mission Shakti created a new debris pile some 300 kilometres above the Earth. Since it is in space the debris will move around with a velocity created after the A-Sat impact. Since there is no gravity and friction, it will continue to move with low orbit.
When the PSLV is launched from Sriharikota, it will have to traverse through that debris belt where there would be a risk of collision.
Using a new rocket part of the ballistic missile defence system on March 27, India shot down the over-700 kilogram MicroSAT-R satellite at an altitude of 300 kilometres, creating a debris pile of some 300 pieces.
Now the big question that needs some introspection as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) gets ready for the PSLV launch is – what are the risks from this new debris that India itself has created? And does ISRO have a plan to mitigate this new threat?
Theoretically, there are chances of hitting them and they would certainly come in the way of future launches at least for the next several weeks. The big problem is that India is launching a satellite tomorrow, six days of the orbital collision.
“Yes, theoretically, that is right. But you should understand that today in space, millions of debris are floating around. Every satellite launch leaves anything between 100-150 fragments, they could be small bolts, they could be heat shields, they could be anything,” VK Saraswat, former DRDO head told media.
“These fragments keep floating around because as soon as you get out of the atmosphere, nothing comes back; it always remains there and keeps on revolving because it is at the same speed of the satellite. So when they keep revolving they have a tendency to come in the way of other objects that are going to be propelled. That is why internationally there is a programme today to remove debris as much as possible and India is a signatory to that,” he said.
“Launching an anti-satellite missile does not create even 50 per cent of what we are doing while launching a large satellite, so it is not that we are going to increase by… suppose we have created 10 or 50 or 60 debris elements, one lakh or one million have become that much extra,” Mr Saraswat said.
Meanwhile to track space debris, recently ISRO put in place a special multi-object tracking radar at Sriharikota. In addition, Indian space scientists depend on public domain information on space debris and situational awareness made available by the American armed forces.