India shoots down satellite in test, Modi hails arrival as space power

Students cheer as they raise flags to celebrate after India shot down one of its satellites in space with an anti-satellite missile in a test, inside their school premises in Ahmedabad, India, March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

By Sanjeev Miglani and Krishna N. Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India shot down one of its satellites in space with an anti-satellite missile on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, hailing the country’s first test of such technology as a major breakthrough that establishes it as a space power.

India would only be the fourth country to have used such an anti-satellite weapon after the United States, Russia and China, said Modi, who heads into general elections next month.

“Our scientists shot down a live satellite 300 kilometers away in space, in low-earth orbit,” Modi said in a television broadcast.

“India has made an unprecedented achievement today,” he added, speaking in Hindi. “India registered its name as a space power.”

Anti-satellite weapons permit attacks on enemy satellites, blinding them or disrupting communications, as well as providing a technology base to intercept ballistic missiles.

Such capabilities have raised fears of the weaponization of space and setting off a race between rivals.

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan warned any nations who might be considering anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests like the one India carried out on Wednesday to “not make a mess” in space, noting the debris that can be left behind.

He said the United States was still studying the Indian test.

After the news, China’s foreign ministry said it hoped all countries “can earnestly protect lasting peace and tranquility in space”. Russia declined to make any immediate comment.

India’s neighbor and arch-rival Pakistan said space is the “common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarization of this arena.”

Tension flared last month between the nuclear-armed foes after a militant attack in the disputed region of Kashmir. Separately, Pakistan announced on Wednesday it had studied an Indian government report into the Kashmir incident and summoned India’s High Commissioner to Islamabad to share the conclusions, adding that it was seeking further information and was acting in the interest of regional peace and security.

India has had a space program for years, making earth imaging satellites and launch capabilities as a cheaper alternative to Western programs. It sent a low-cost probe to Mars in 2014 and plans its first manned space mission by 2022.

The latest test, conducted from an island off its east coast, was aimed at protecting India’s assets in space against foreign attacks, the government said.

A ballistic missile defence interceptor produced by the government’s Defence Research and Development Organisation was used to shoot down the satellite, the foreign ministry said.

“The capability achieved…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 in a statement.

The three-minute test in the lower atmosphere ensured there was no debris in space and the remnants would “decay and fall back on to the earth within weeks”, the ministry added.

But Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey said the risk of debris hitting other objects in space remained.

“One of the big risks of a hit-to-kill ASAT (anti satellite weapon) is that it shatters the target, leaving a cloud of lethal debris that threatens other satellites. In an extreme scenario, there is even a risk of ‘collisional cascading’ in which one breakup triggers others in a chain reaction.”

“While tests can be arranged to minimize this risk, any operational use of such a system in war poses a real threat to all satellites in orbit at similar altitude.”

China destroyed a satellite in 2007, creating the largest orbital debris cloud in history, with more than 3,000 objects, according to the Secure World Foundation.

China’s test spurred India to develop its anti-satellite capability, said Ajay Lele, a senior fellow of the government-funded Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.

Indian defence scientists had sought political approval for live tests but successive governments had baulked, fearing international condemnation, an Indian defence official said.

Brahma Chellaney, a security expert at New Delhi’s Centre of Policy Research, said the United States, Russia and China were pursuing anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

“Space is being turned into a battlefront, making counter-space capabilities critical. In this light, India’s successful ‘kill’ with an ASAT weapon is significant.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. mission in Geneva, which handles disarmament issues, had no immediate comment on the Indian test.

UNITED STATES A PIONEER

The United States ran the first anti-satellite test in 1959, when satellites themselves were rare and new.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Soviet Union tested a weapon that would be launched into orbit, approach enemy satellites and destroy them with an explosive charge, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In 1985 the United States tested the ASM-135, launched from an F-15 fighter, destroying a U.S. satellite called Solwind P78-1.

There were no tests for more than 20 years, until China entered the anti-satellite arena in 2007.

The following year, the United States used a ship-launched SM-3 missile to destroy a defunct spy satellite in Operation Burnt Frost.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government has taken a strong position on national security, launching air strikes last month on a suspected militant camp in Pakistan that spurred retaliatory raids.

Although he faces criticism for failing to deliver on high economic growth and create jobs, a hawkish position on security should help Modi at the ballot box, pollsters say.

The leader of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, congratulated defence scientists but took a dig at Modi for the announcement on a day that commemorates theatricals.

“I would also like to wish the prime minister a very happy World Theatre Day,” Gandhi said. School children held flags in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad celebrating the test.

A concern for India is that China could help its old ally Pakistan neutralize any advantage.

“Pakistan and China have a very deep strategic kind of partnership. So some kind of sharing of capabilities can’t be ignored,” Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, another Delhi think-tank, said.

(Additional reporting by Gerry Doyle in SINGAPORE, Zeba Siddiqui in NEW DELHI, Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, James Mackenzie in ISLAMABAD, Polina Nikolskaya in MOSCOW, Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA and Phil Stewart in MIAMI.Writing by Sanjeev MiglaniEditing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez, William Maclean)

Scientists hope harpoons can skewer space garbage crisis

A small harpoon system, identical to the one in space now on the RemoveDebris satellite, is seen at the European Space Agency project in Stevenage, Britain, April 4, 2018. Picture taken April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Stuart McDill

STEVENAGE, England (Reuters) – A European satellite launched this week to try out ways of tackling the growing amount of garbage in space will use technology as familiar to the ancient Romans as astronauts – nets and harpoons.

Engineers who have designed and created harpoons for two pioneering space debris clearing projects said the appeal of such time-tested concepts was their simplicity.

“The irony is not lost on us,” said Alastair Wayman, an advanced projects engineer at Airbus Space in the southern English town of Stevenage.

Alastair Wayman, Advanced Projects Engineer at Airbus Space, examines the tip of a large harpoon after a test firing into a simulated section of satellite as part of an European Space Agency project in Stevenage, Britain, April 4, 2018. Picture taken April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Stuart McDill

Alastair Wayman, Advanced Projects Engineer at Airbus Space, examines the tip of a large harpoon after a test firing into a simulated section of satellite as part of an European Space Agency project in Stevenage, Britain, April 4, 2018. Picture taken April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Stuart McDill

“This is a really nice, simple piece of technology but what we’ve done is we’ve updated it for use in space and the beauty of this system is in its simplicity,” he told Reuters.

The RemoveDebris satellite is carrying a number of different devices designed to help clear the huge amount of debris orbiting the earth. It has already docked with the International Space Station and the tests are expected to begin in the next few weeks.

“All we have to do is sit away from our target spacecraft, fire our harpoon towards it and then once it’s impacted we’ve captured our piece of space debris,” said Wayman.

One of the harpoons is around 30 cm (one foot) long, and is designed to fire at a target on an arm around 20 meters (65 ft) away, before reeling it back in on a rope.

A larger harpoon, around 1.5 metres-long and weighing 2.2 kg (5 lb) is also being designed in the lab, as part of the European Space Agency’s Clean Space program. It aims to capture space junk targets weighing up to eight tonnes (17,000 lb).

Scientists estimate as much as 7,000 tonnes of junk is orbiting the earth at speeds of up to 27,000 km/h (17,000 mph) and it is capable of damaging satellites or spacecraft.

The debris ranges from tiny items such as screws or chips of paint to rocket sections or defunct satellites.

Other devices being tested on the RemoveDebris satellite include a net to catch debris, a light-based ranging system known as LIDAR, and a sail that will pull the craft back into earth’s atmosphere where it and the debris would burn up harmlessly.

(Reporting by Stuart McDill; Writing by Mark Hanrahan in London; editing by David Stamp)

Japan launches satellite for advanced GPS operation

A H-IIA rocket carrying Michibiki 3 satellite, one of four satellites that will augment regional navigational systems, lifts off from the launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center on the southwestern island of Tanegashima, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo August 19, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan on Saturday launched an H-2A rocket carrying a geo-positioning satellite into orbit after a week-long delay, the government said.

The launch of Japan’s third geo-positioning satellite is part of its plan to build a version of the U.S. global positioning system (GPS) to offer location information used for autopiloting and possible national security purposes.

The government postponed the launch a week ago because of a technical glitch.

“With the success of the third satellite, we have made another step closer for having signals from four satellites in the future,” Masaji Matsuyama, minister in charge of space policy, said in a statement.

The government plans to launch a fourth satellite by the end of the year to start offering highly precise position information by next April.

Japan plans to boost the number of its geo-positioning satellites to seven by 2023, making its system independently operational even if the U.S. GPS becomes unavailable for some reason, a government official said previously.

The satellite was manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Corp and was blasted into orbit by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

(Reporting by Junko Fujita and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Images show high level of activity at North Korea nuclear site: monitor

Kim Jong Un

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Recent satellite images show a high level of activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site but it is unclear whether this was for maintenance or preparation for a fifth nuclear test, a U.S.-based North Korea monitoring project said on Monday.

A report on the 38 North website said the commercial satellite imagery from July 7 was not of sufficiently high resolution to determine the exact nature of the activity at the Punggye-ri test site, but it added:

“It is clear that North Korea is ensuring that the facility is in a state of readiness that would allow the conduct of future nuclear tests, should the order come from Pyongyang.”

The report on 38 North, which is run by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said the imagery showed stacked supplies or equipment and what could be mine ore carts, suggesting a tunnel was being actively worked on.

It said several groups of people and small vehicles could also be seen on the road south of the test facility.

“It is likely that they are either engaged in spring maintenance or traveling to and from the test facility,” the report said.

Speculation has intensified that North Korea may conduct a fifth nuclear test after the United States blacklisted the country’s leader Kim Jong Un on July 6 for human rights abuses.

North Korea said last week it was planning its toughest response to this move, which it called a “declaration of war.”

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and launched a long-range rocket the following month, resulting in tough new U.N. sanctions.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Though North Korea satellite not transmitting, rocket payload a concern

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A satellite put into orbit by North Korea at the weekend does not appear to be transmitting, but it is worrying that the rocket that took it there delivered twice the payload of Pyongyang’s previous launch, the head of the U.S. Army’s Missile Defense Command said on Wednesday.

“If you look at the previous launch and the payload it put into orbit … just the increase in weight is I think an important factor,” Lieutenant-General David Mann told a seminar on Capitol Hill organized by the Hudson Institute think tank.

“Whenever you are able to put something into orbit, that’s significant,” Mann said.

“I don’t think it’s transmitting as we speak, but it does reflect a capability that North Korea is trying to leverage in terms of its missile technologies,” he said.

“That kind of capability and then also the collateral usages for that technology are obviously very, very concerning to nations around the world in terms of ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) capabilities.”

Mann said the payload carried was almost twice as large as that carried in North Korea’s previous satellite launch in 2012.

He did not give a figure for the weight of the latest satellite, but South Korean officials have put it at 440 pounds.

Sunday’s launch, which followed Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear bomb test on Jan. 6, was condemned by the United States and countries around the world, which believe it was cover for development of ballistic missile technology.

The United States and South Korea immediately said they would begin formal talks about deploying the sophisticated U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, to the Korean peninsula “at the earliest possible date.”

South Korea had in the past been reluctant to begin formal talks on the Lockheed Martin Corp missile defense system due to worries about upsetting China, its biggest trading partner, which believes it could reduce the effectiveness of its strategic deterrent.

Asked when THAAD might go to South Korea, Mann said there was no timeline for a possible deployment, but added: “I think both governments are going to begin conversations looking at the feasibility of THAAD and we will see what happens from there.”

On Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said U.S. plans to for a missile shield in South Korea could trigger an arms race in Northeast Asia.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sandra Maler)

North Korea satellite in stable orbit but not transmitting, U.S. sources say

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea’s recently launched satellite has achieved stable orbit but is not believed to have transmitted data back to Earth, U.S. sources said of a launch that has so far failed to convince experts that Pyongyang has significantly advanced its rocket technology.

Sunday’s launch of what North Korea said was an earth observation satellite angered the country’s neighbors and the United States, which called it a missile test. It followed Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January.

“It’s in a stable orbit now. They got the tumbling under control,” a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

That is unlike the North’s previous satellite, launched in 2012, which never stabilized, the official said. However, the new satellite was not thought to be transmitting, another source added.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with the leaders of South Korea and Japan by phone on Monday night and reassured them of Washington’s support, while also calling for a strong international response to the launch, the White House said.

Obama will also address North Korea’s “provocations” when he hosts the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in California early next week, aides said.

The United States and China, Pyongyang’s only major ally, are negotiating the outline of a new U.N. sanctions resolution that diplomats hope will be adopted this month.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear tests and long-range rocket launches dating back to 2006, banning arms trade and money flow that can fund the country’s arms program.

But a confidential U.N. report, seen by Reuters, concluded that North Korea continues to export ballistic-missile technology to the Middle East and ship arms and materiel to Africa in violation of U.N. restrictions.

The report by the U.N. Security Council’s Panel of Experts on North Korea, which monitors implementation of sanctions, said there were “serious questions about the efficacy of the current United Nations sanctions regime.”

Western diplomats told Reuters that restricting North Korean access to international ports is among the measures Washington is pushing Beijing to accept in the wake of the Jan. 6 nuclear test and the weekend rocket launch.

“PROVOCATIVE, DISTURBING AND ALARMING”

Missile experts say North Korea appears to have repeated its earlier success in putting an object into space, rather than broken new ground. It used a nearly identical design to the 2012 launch and is probably years away from building a long-range nuclear missile, the experts said.

Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, told reporters that North Korea’s launch was “provocative, disturbing and alarming,” but could not be equated with a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

He said North Korea had never attempted to flight test the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile it is developing.

Syring said U.S. missile defenses would be able to defend against the new North Korean missile given efforts to improve the reliability of the U.S. system and increase in the number of ground-based U.S. interceptors from 30 to 44.

“I’m very confident that we’re, one, ahead of it today, and that the funded improvements will keep us ahead of … where it may be by 2020,” he said.

The latest North Korea rocket was based on engines taken from its massive stockpile of mid-range missiles based on Soviet-era technology and electrical parts too rudimentary to be targeted by a global missile control regime, experts said.

South Korea’s defense ministry believes the three-stage rocket, named Kwangmyongsong, had a potential range of 7,457 miles, Yonhap news agency reported, similar to that of the 2012 rocket and putting the U.S. mainland in reach.

“I suspect the aim of the launch was to repeat the success, which itself provides considerable engineering knowledge,” said Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Separately, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper said on Tuesday that North Korea could begin to recover plutonium from a restarted nuclear reactor within weeks.

Clapper said that in 2013, following its third nuclear test, the North had announced its intention to “refurbish and restart” facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” Clapper said in prepared testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Irene Klotz, Susan Heavey and Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Dean Yates)

Flaming Object Strikes Near Queensland, Australia

A bright blue and orange object that plunged from the sky and struck the ground with the force of a bomb startled residents of Queensland, Australia.

A resident of Mount Isa, Australia old ABC News that the object was a “blazing light” that was “falling straight down.”

“I am actually flabbergasted at the attention at the moment because it was just a complete fluke,” Virginia Hills said.

Residents of the area say the moment of impact was unusual in that despite looking like a bomb there was no audible sound.

“It was like an explosion but without a sound,” Kim Vega said.  “It was like an atomic bomb effect when it would have hit the ground and all the trees and the skies lit up.”

Astronomers suggest the object was not an asteroid but rather a satellite that fell out of orbit.  The colors of the object seemed to indicate a metallic object rather than a space rock.

China Plans Global Network of Surveillance Satellites

Chinese officials have confirmed they are looking at a proposal to create a network of satellites that would allow them to spy on any part of the planet.

The system is reportedly gaining a boost because of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight that has eluded any search efforts.  Several members of the Chinese leadership say a Chinese operated worldwide surveillance network would have found the aircraft.

“If we had a global monitoring network today, we wouldn’t be searching in the dark,” a source told Australia’s News Limited.  “We would have a much greater chance to find the plane and trace it to its final position.”

The current Chinese satellite system reportedly only allows the country to spy on their nation and surrounding countries.  However, the proposed system would be so detailed and significantly upgraded in technology to current systems that it would place China ahead of the United States in global surveillance.

If the government goes ahead with funding the plan, the network could be in place and operational within two years.