UPSC MAINS 2019: India tests first anti-satellite missile system

Topic : India tests first anti-satellite missile system

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3: Science & Technology



Recently India announced to the world that it had carried out a successful anti-satellite missile test, becoming only the fourth country to do so.


More above on news:

  • Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully conducted an Anti-Satellite (A-SAT) missile test ‘Mission Shakti’ from the Dr AP J Abdul Kalam Island in Odisha.
  • A DRDO-developed Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Interceptor Missile successfully engaged an Indian orbiting target satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in a ‘Hit to Kill’ mode.
  • The interceptor missile was a three-stage missile with two solid rocket boosters.
  • The test has demonstrated the Nation’s capability to defend its assets in outer space.
  • With this India joins a select group of nations, which have such capability.
  • The test has once again proven the capability of indigenous weapon systems.

About anti-satellite missile test:

  • Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) are space weapons designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes.
  • Several nations possess operational ASAT systems.
  • Although no ASAT system has yet been utilized in warfare, a few nations have shot down their own satellites to demonstrate their ASAT capabilities in a show of force.
  • Only the United States, Russia, China, and India have demonstrated this capability successfully.
  • The first anti-satellite test (ASAT) was carried out by the US military way back in 1959. The then Soviet Union followed a year later.
  • ASAT is the technological capability to hit and destroy satellites in space through missiles launched from the ground.



  • The technology is aimed at destroying, if necessary, satellites owned by enemy countries.
  • With large number of crucial applications being satellite-based, satellites are extremely critical infrastructure of any country these days.
  • Some of them include navigation systems, communication networks, banking systems, weather forecasting, disaster management, and military applications.
  • Destroying a satellite would render these applications useless.
  • It can thus cripple enemy infrastructure without causing any threat to human lives.



  • ASAT weapon systems have a long history and were a product of the Cold War hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union.
  • They came back into popular currency after China conducted an anti-satellite missile test on Jan 2007.
  • The target was a Chinese weather satellite — the FY-1C – that sailed at an altitude of 865 km. (537 mi).
  • A year later, the US launched ‘Operation Burnt Frost,’ the code name to intercept and destroy a non-functioning satellite named USA-193.


What are Low-Earth Orbit satellites?

The Indian satellite that was shot down was a Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite. These are satellites roughly at an altitude of 2,000 kilometres from the earth and that’s the region where majority of satellites are concentrated. A database from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-government organization based in the United States, says that there are at least 5 known Indian satellites in LEO: India PiSat, Resourcesat 2, Radar Imaging Satellites 1 and2 and SRMsat.


India’s capabilities so far:

  • While ‘Mission Shakti’ may have targeted an object in outer space, India has long developed the ability to intercept incoming missiles.
  • In 2011, a modified Prithvi missile, mimicked the trajectory of a ballistic missile with a 600-km range.
  • Radars at different locations swung into action, tracking the “enemy” missile, constructing its trajectory and passing on the information in real time to the Mission Control Centre (MCC) to launch the interceptor, an Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile.
  • It had a directional warhead to go close to the adversarial missile before exploding to inflict damage on it.


About Mission Shakti:

  • There are a large number of satellites currently in space, many of which have outlived their utility and orbiting aimlessly.
  • One such satellite was chosen for India’s present test.
  • A missile was launched from the Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Island launch complex near Balasore in Odisha.
  • It struck a predetermined target which was a redundant Indian satellite that was orbiting at a distance of 300 km from the Earth’s
  • As per official sources, the satellite that had been knocked out was Microsat R, a micro-satellite launched by ISRO in January, 2019.

Significance of Mission Shakti:

  • The capability achieved through the Anti-Satellite missile test provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles.
  • The test has demonstrated the Nation’s capability to defend its assets in outer space.
  • It is a vindication of the strength and robust nature of DRDO’s programmes.
  • India has tested and successfully demonstrated its capability to interdict and intercept a satellite in outer space based on complete indigenous technology.
  • India’s space programme is a critical backbone of India’s security, economic and social infrastructure.
  • International efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space based assets.
  • This is a technology where we have developed capability. Space technologies are constantly evolving.


Why India did the test?

  • India has a long standing and rapidly growing space programme.
  • It has expanded rapidly in the last five years. The Mangalyaan Mission to Mars was successfully launched. Thereafter, the government has sanctioned the Gaganyaan Mission which will take Indians to outer space.
  • India has undertaken 102 spacecraft missions consisting of communication satellites, earth observation satellites, experimental satellites, navigation satellites, apart from satellites meant for scientific research and exploration, academic studies and other small satellites.
  • India’s space programme is a critical backbone of India’s security, economic and social infrastructure.
  • The test was done to verify that India has the capability to safeguard our space assets.
  • It is the Government of India’s responsibility to defend the country’s interests in outer space.
  • The tests were done after we had acquired the required degree of confidence to ensure its success, and reflects the intention of the government to enhance India’s national security.
  • India has seen an accelerated space development programme since 2014.


Is India entering into an arms race in outer space?

  • India has no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space.
  • Indiahas always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes. We are against the weaponisation of Outer Space and support international efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space based assets.
  • India believes that Outer space is the common heritage of humankind and it is the responsibility of all space-faring nations to preserve and promote the benefits flowing from advances made in space technology and its applications for all.
  • India is a party to all the major international treaties relating to Outer Space.
  • India has been participating in all sessions of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
  • India supported UNGA resolution 69/32 on No First Placement of Weapons on Outer Space.
  • India see the No First Placement of weapons in outer space as only an interim step and not a substitute for concluding substantive legal measures to ensure the prevention of an arms race in outer space, which should continue to be a priority for the international community.
  • India supports the substantive consideration of the issue of Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) in the Conference on Disarmament where it has been on the agenda since 1982.


What is the international law on weapons in outer space?

  • The principal international Treaty on space is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. India is a signatory to this treaty, and ratified it in 1982.
  • The Outer Space Treaty prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons.
  • India expects to play a role in the future in the drafting of international law on prevention of an arms race in outer space including inter alia on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space in its capacity as a major space faring nation with proven space technology.
  • India is not in violation of any international law or Treaty to which it is a Party or any national obligation.


Is this the only way to target enemy satellites?

  • In the last few years, countries have explored alternative options of making enemy satellites dysfunctional, options which do not involve direct destruction of the target or creation of the debris.
  • This can be attempted during the uplink or the downlink.
  • Another option that has been explored is the possibility of sending satellites that could just approach a target close enough to deviate it from its selected orbit, without destroying it.
  • Several countries and organizations including China, Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency are said to be working on developing these ‘close proximity’ anti-satellite technologies.
  • The third option is the possible use of ground-based lasers to ‘dazzle’ the sensors of the satellites and make them at least “partially blind” so that they are unable to work efficiently.




Is the test directed against any country?

  • The test is not directed against any country. India’s space capabilities do not threaten any country and nor are they directed against anyone.
  • At the same time, the government is committed to ensuring the country’s national security interests and is alert to threats from emerging technologies.
  • The capability achieved through the Anti-Satellite missile test provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles.


Sample Question:

What do you understand by Mission Shakti significance? Why the ASAT missile test is important for India? By this test is India entering into an arms race in outer space? Discuss