Science And Technology

Mission Shakti: The game changer

Issue 02, 2019

Mission Shakti: The game changer

Pallava Bagla |author

Issue 02, 2019

With the success of Mission Shakti, India has become the fourth nation to acquire the capability for launching anti-satellite weapons. Till now, only the US, Russia and China had the capability to hit a live target in space

On the morning of March 27, 2019, a special rocket lifted off from the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha in the Bay of Bengal which changed the course of history for India’s space faring once and for all. Code named ‘Mission Shakti’ India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) spearheaded a secret mission that knocked out in one single ‘hit to kill’ blow India’s own live satellite, around 300 km above the Earth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the stunning announcement in a national broadcast and said that in the journey of every nation, there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come. “Mission Shakti was a highly complex one, conducted at extremely high speed with remarkable precision. It shows the remarkable dexterity of India’s outstanding scientists and the success of our space programme,” he said. India has joined a select group of four nations that have the capability for launching anti-satellite weapons. So far only Russia, United States of America and China had this capability. China conducted its test in 2007 at over 865 km above Earth, generating thousands of pieces of space debris that still threaten the International Space Station, through a possible space collision.

The building blocks of this important mission were laid more than a decade ago when India started the development of the Ballistic Missile Development programmme. According to DRDO, the final go ahead for this critical test was given in 2016 and it took more than two years to master the complex technology about 150-200 scientists toiled hard to make this a reality. In a three-minute flight, the 19-tonne three stage missile with a length of 13 m travelled around 300 km into outer space guided by computers above the Bay of Bengal.

Rocket launch at Dr APJ Abdul Kalam island in Odisha

In a head-on collision, the BMD missile’s there is no space debris imaging infra-red seeker homed onto the 740 kg Microsat-R and killed it one shot. Dr VK Saraswat, missile scientist and the former chief of DRDO and currently member of the national policy think tank NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog said that it was akin to hitting a bullet with a bullet in outer space.

India carried out the test specifically in a planned low Earth orbit to ensure that there is no space debris. “Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks”, a statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs stated. Dr Reddy says that most of the 300 pieces of debris would decay in 45 days in all likelihood. The Ministry of External Affairs further added that India is not in violation of any international law or Treaty to which it is a party or any national
obligation by conducting the A-SAT test.

Strategic experts and technocrats deliberate on Mission Shakti during a special interaction organised by DRDO in New Delhi

Ministry of External Affairs also clarified that the test is not directed against any country. “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 antisatellite 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,” it said.

Many observers feel the decision to carry out ‘Mission Shakti’ was equivalent in magnitude to India carrying out underground nuclear explosions at Pokhran in 1998. India had found place on the high table from where it could effectively parlay in future discussions on how global conventions and laws that will shape the way how outer space is used. A visibly over joyed PM Modi said the entire effort is indigenous. “India stands tall as a space power! It will make India stronger, even more secure and will further peace and harmony.”

Pallava Bagla

Pallava Bagla is New Delhi based science writer and co-author of the best seller book`Reaching for the Stars: India’s Journey to Mars and Beyond’ published by Bloomsbury. He can be reached on or on twitter @pallavabagla.
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