NASA and ISRO briefly stopped working together after the Mission Shakti ASAT Test

Neither of 2 letters to ISRO mentions the upcoming Chandrayaan-2 mission or its NASA instruments.


Following India's 'Mission Shakti' anti-satellite test on 27 March, NASA had reportedly stopped all cooperation with ISRO under the 'NASA-ISRO Human Space Flight Working Group' collaboration between the two national space agencies.

NASA suspended any and all of its activities under the collaborative program two days after the test was carried out, only resuming a few days later, a SpaceNews report said.

On 27 March, India's Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) intercepted one of the country's own satellites using a powerful missile under Mission Shakti. This was intended as a test of anti-satellite capabilities in India's defense arsenal.

In a letter addressed to Dr K Sivan, Chairman of ISRO, on 29 March, NASA's associate administrator for international and interagency relations Al Condes said that NASA was suspending its participation in a working group between the two agencies in matters related to human spaceflight.

NASA and ISRO briefly stopped working together after the Mission Shakti ASAT Test

Representatives from ISRO and NASA at the International Astronautical Congress 2018 (IAC2018). Image credit: IAC2018

"It is NASA’s view that human spaceflight is simply incompatible with the purposeful creation of orbital debris generated by anti-satellite testing," the letter, provided by NASA to SpaceNews, reads.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had publicly condemned India’s anti-satellite missile test in the days after it happened. He pointed out that the 60 pieces of trackable debris and the 400-odd piece whizzing around were a hazard to space programs globally. A week after the test, Bridenstine also announced that some of the debris was gradually moving to higher altitudes and posing a threat to the space station and the astronauts aboard.

"That is a terrible, terrible thing, to create an event that sends debris in an apogee that goes above the International Space Station," Bridenstine had said.

The reasons for NASA temporary pulling out of the collaboration also came with conditions under which the partnership can continue.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Reuters

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Reuters

"The administrator has asked me to inform you that NASA is immediately suspending activities under the NASA-ISRO Human Space Flight Working Group until it receives assurances from ISRO that India will refrain from future anti-satellite tests that could have an impact on human space flight activities in low Earth orbit,” Condes said, according to SpaceNews.

Bridenstine had to address US Congress members in a hearing of the House Science Committee on 2 April with regard to a NASA budget request. Two days later, on 4 April, came a second letter addressed to Dr Sivan, just as the number of objects linked to the test in orbit going above the space station had increased. The letter said that the cooperation between the two agencies would resume, along with work on several working groups including that for Human Space Flight.

NASA had no plans to reduce "cooperative engagements" with India or do "anything asymmetric," Bridenstine said, citing NASA's lunar project hitching a ride on ISRO's upcoming Chandrayaan-2 moon mission as an example. While Bridenstine spoke of the mission to media, neither of the two official letters to the ISRO Chief made mentions of changes to the original plans for the Chandrayaan-2 mission, which carries a laser retroreflector instrument developed by NASA.