Under pressure from the White House seemingly, NASA, the premier US space agency, has chosen to resume cooperation with its Indian counterpart ISRO reversing a recent decision to suspend it over orbital debris resulting from the March 27 Indian anti-satellite testing.
NASA administration Jim Bridenstine, who had declared the test a “terrible, terrible thing”, wrote to ISRO chairman K Sivan on Thursday saying, “As part of our partnership with you, we will continue to work on issues using the NASA-ISRO Human Space Flights Working Group, Planetary Science Working Group, US-India Earth Science Working Group, and the Heliophysics Working Group.”
He joined, making clear the reason for changing his decision, “Based on guidance received from the White House, I look forward to continuing these groups in the future.”
In a recent but previously unreported letter to the ISRO chairman, which Bridenstine revealed by referring to in his Thursday note, he had written “indicating a suspension of activities under the NASA-ISRO Human Space Flight Working Group” programme.
Bridenstine wrote that he made clear then that space debris was a “serious issue” for the United States and it was a shared responsibility of all nations operating in space. “We will continue to monitor the remaining debris from your test as relates to the safety of our human spaceflight activities especially at the International Space Station.”
But all space-related cooperation activities are back on track. “This reflects the resilience of the relationship,” an official stated on background, pointing to the quick resolution of a situation that neither side was happy to see escalating.
Both the department of defense and the state department had pointed to the importance of the issue of space debris in their respective response to the ASAT testing. But, as the state department said, they “took note” of Indian government’s reports that the test was designed to address space debris.
A state department spokesperson had gone on to say then, and reiterated Tuesday, that as part of “our strong strategic partnership with India, we will continue to try shared interests in space and scientific and technical cooperation, including collaboration on safety and security in space.
The NASA administration, however, struck a different, and discordant, note. “That is a terrible, terrible thing, to create an event that sends debris into an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” the administrator said at a town-hall style meeting with NASA employees.
“And that kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight,” he had joined, also calling it “unacceptable”.
Bridenstine had stated the testing had left 400 pieces of debris in space. Sixty pieces were larger than 10 cm in diameter and 24 of them had risen above the apogee of the space station, increasing its risk of being hit by debris by 44%. He had added that the space station could be moved for its safety, but it would not be needed.