NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine on Tuesday called India's destruction of one of its satellites a "terrible thing" that had created 400 pieces of orbital debris and led to new dangers for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. He said this while addressing employees of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week announced that India successfully test-fired an anti-satellite missile by shooting down a live satellite, describing it as a rare achievement that puts the country in an exclusive club of space super powers. The test made India the fourth country in the world after the US, Russia and China to acquire the strategic capability to shoot down enemy satellites.
Not all of the pieces were big enough to track, Bridenstine explained. "What we are tracking right now, objects big enough to track -- we're talking about 10 centimeters (six inches) or bigger -- about 60 pieces have been tracked."
The Indian satellite was destroyed at a relatively low altitude of 180 miles (300 kilometers), well below the ISS and most satellites in orbit.
But 24 of the pieces "are going above the apogee of the International Space Station," said Bridenstine.
"That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station," he continued, adding: "That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight."
"It's unacceptable and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is."
The US military tracks objects in space to predict the collision risk for the ISS and for satellites.
They are currently tracking 23,000 objects larger than 10 centimetres. That includes about 10,000 pieces of space debris, of which nearly 3,000 were created by a single event: a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007 at 530 miles from the surface.
As a result of the Indian test, the risk of collision with the ISS has increased by 44 percent over 10 days, Bridenstine said.
But the risk will dissipate over time as much of the debris will burn up as it enters the atmosphere.
The mission, led by the Defence Reseach and Development Organisation, was code-named "Mission Shakti" in which an anti-satellite weapon ASAT successfully targeted a live satellite on a low earth orbit (LEO).