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NEW DELHI : The Indian Space Research Organisation satellite shot down by an anti-satellite missile on Wednesday as part of Mission Shakti was already decommissioned. The satellite was orbiting at an altitude of 300 kilometres (km) above earth. A low earth orbit satellite was chosen to ensure that the debris is pulled down by the earth’s gravity and burnt as it enters the earth’s atmosphere within the next few weeks because of the scorching temperatures.

The Defence Research and Development Organization chose a ballistic missile defence interceptor missile that was indigenously developed by it under its ongoing ballistic missile defence programme. It was a three-stage interceptor missile with two solid rocket boosters.

An interceptor is launched on the basis of information received from the radars about the speed, altitude and flight path of the target. When the interceptor closes in on the target, a radar seeker searches for the satellite and guides the missile to intercept it. The satellite hit on Wednesday was moving at 25,200km per hour at an altitude of 300km.

The technology has been demonstrated by Russia, US and China, but not against a foreign satellite.

It is significant that the missile engaged the satellite in a “hit to kill" mode. Within three minutes of its take-off from Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Island, formerly Wheeler Island, in Odisha, the missile locked in on the target and fragmented it.

There are other ways, such as “fly-by tests" and jamming, to demonstrate anti-satellite capabilities. However, Mission Shakti used the technology of kinetic kill, the final missile stage of an interceptor.

“The test was carried out in a way that the target was successfully neutralized, using a kinetic kill vehicle, where a missile has been used to fragment a satellite into pieces. This is difficult at a higher altitude and used mostly for low earth orbits," said Ajey Lele, a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi.

According to experts, accuracy is critical to lock in on a satellite in orbit and neutralize it.

Most of the intelligence or spy satellites, which focus on foreign powers, are usually in a low earth orbit. They have the capabilities to intercept communications and photograph enemy military and civilian sites. Such satellites give troops an unprecedented advantage to track and target enemies.

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