India has shot down a satellite in a missile test which makes the country a ‘space superpower’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said.
Speaking today just weeks before an election Modi said Indian scientists had ‘shot down a live satellite at a low-earth orbit’.
Calling it a ‘proud moment for India’, Modi insisted the mission was peaceful and not designed to create ‘an atmosphere of war’, adding it was ‘not directed against any country’.
Announcement: A man watches Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on Wednesday morning in which the PM said India had become a ‘space superpower’ by shooting down a satellite
‘India has registered its name in the list of space superpowers. Until now, only three countries had achieved this feat,’ he said in his first televised address since 2016.
The satellite was in orbit at 185 miles (300km) when it was destroyed.
It comes just weeks after India and Pakistan appeared on the brink of war in one of the disputed Kashmir region’s biggest flashpoints.
Tensions escalated alarmingly after a massive suicide bombing killed 40 Indian troops on February 14, with the attack claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group.
Twelve days later Indian warplanes launched a strike inside undisputed Pakistani territory, claiming to have hit a militant camp.
An infuriated Islamabad denied casualties or damage, but a day later launched its own incursion across the Line of Control.
That sparked a dogfight which ended in both countries claiming they had shot down each other’s warplanes, and the capture of an Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman.
Captive: Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman is pictured in the custody of the Pakistani army at the height of the late-February tension which brought the two nations to the brink of war
Tensions calmed after Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan announced the pilot would be released in a ‘peace gesture’.
In New Delhi the announcement of the experienced pilot’s release was seen as a diplomatic victory, but India warned that its military remained on ‘heightened’ alert.
The latest announcement comes ahead of a national election in which Modi is seeking a second term in office.
Voting starts April 11 and will last nearly six weeks, with close to 900 million Indians eligible to vote in the world’s largest election.
Earlier this year India announced it was planning to send its first manned mission into space by December 2021.
Modi has hailed the national space programme as a prestige project and said that both men and women could be selected for the mission.
The proposed three-person mission would make again make India the fourth country after Russia, the United States and China to achieve the feat.
Blast-off: India’s Mars orbiter spacecraft lifts off in November 2013. Modi has hailed the national space programme as a prestige project
‘We are planning to have the first unmanned mission by December 2020, the second by July 2021, and the manned mission by December 2021,’ Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said in Bangalore.
Plans for a manned mission were first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year, and his government has since approved around $1.4 billion to provide technology and infrastructure.
The sum would make it one of the cheapest manned space programmes in the world.
India sent an orbiter to Mars in 2013 which is still operational and last year launched a record 104 satellites in one blast-off.
China put its first humans into space in 2003 but its Shenzhou programme cost more than $2.3 billion.
Experts say the United States spent the equivalent of about $110 billion at current values on preparatory flights and the mission to put the first man on the moon in 1969.