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India Attempted ASAT Test in February

Exclusive from Ankit Panda for The Diplomat:

According to U.S. government sources with knowledge of military intelligence assessments, the United States observed a failed Indian anti-satellite intercept test attempt in February. The solid-fueled interceptor missile used during that test “failed after about 30 seconds of flight,” one source told The Diplomat.

… According to one U.S. government source, the Indian side had notified the United States of its intent to carry out an experimental weapon test in early February, but without confirming that it would be an anti-satellite test. “They gave us a vague heads up,” the source said.

The first failed Indian test, however, provided enough information for U.S. military intelligence to conclude that New Delhi was attempting an anti-satellite test using a new kind of direct-ascent kinetic interceptor.

Dr. Marco Langbroek wrote a great post with the relevant NOTAMs and Microsat-R groundtracks, and it’s all but indisputable that the February attempt was for the same mission.

What’s most interesting here is the implication that the US government knew about India’s ASAT testing ahead of time. Additionally, there has been little-to-no response from US officials, aside from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The debris created by India’s test is certainly a big issue, and Dr. Langbroek has another fantastic post showing the distribution of debris after the similar USA 193 incident in 2008.

That incident created many traceable debris pieces that ended up with apogees well over 1,000 kilometers, so this isn’t just a low altitude threat. Fortunately, the perigee is low enough that nearly all the debris should be down over the next few weeks.