China’s ‘Heavenly Palace’ & India’s Need For ‘Eyes In The Skies’

Delhi Defence Review, May 04, 2018

The recent uncontrolled reentry of China’s first space station module, Tiangong 1, once again brought to the fore the need for India to augment its limited space situational awareness (SSA) capabilities. While the United States (US) and China were able to predict Tiangong 1’s reentry trajectory fairly accurately, absent were Indian contributions towards real-time reentry predictions for the Tiangong 1’s final moments. Despite being a  member of the 13-nation Inter-Agency Debris Committee (IADC) that selected Tiangong 1’s reentry mission for its joint annual re-entry test campaign, and contributing towards early predictions of its re-entry window, India’s lack of participation in real-time tracking of Tiangong 1’s re-entry could be largely attributed to its lack of a substantive SSA architecture. However, given that space is becoming ever crowded with a concomitant rise in India’s own space-based asset pool, continued dependence only on low-accuracy foreign sources for SSA would be imprudent.

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Mrunalini Deshpande
Senior Research Fellow in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP) at the National Institute of Advance Studies (NIAS), Bangalore.

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