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I just saw India just shot down a satellite from the ground. At what altitude range is the resulting debris field? about today's Indian ASAT test... As far as I know an "ASAT Missile" sounds military in origin, so therefore if the debris from this test were to take out the ISS, for instance, who would be accountable?

What would be some of the ramifications the Indian government could face for destroying international property with a military test. Are these ramifications any different than just accidental collisions because it was caused by a military context?

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  • $\begingroup$ economictimes.indiatimes.com: 10 things you need to know about ASAT, India's new space slayer $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 27 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Bear even if it's unanswerable, it isn't unaskable :). Maybe Trump will show up and state that we would use Space Force to immediately take action (jokes), who knows. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Mar 27 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, this, like much of space law, is uncharted territory. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Mar 27 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Tristan VTC as too broad then? Or possibly duplicate of my other Whats the protocol if two satellites collide? $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Mar 27 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn we have a law tag (just added it). Your question is on-topic here and it could be on-topic in Law SE as well. I posted link to a space law question here in their chat room and one person engaged, but nothing conclusive. I think right here is your best bet at getting an answer, but I wouldn't be surprised if the answer does turn out to be "it's not clear, and depends strongly on the specific scenario". But that's okay, so I'd say just sit tight. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 27 at 21:37
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The Space Liability Convention of the Outer Space Treaty holds that whichever state controls the territory a spacecraft/object is launched from is responsible for any damages it causes.

India is a signatory of the treaty, so if the debris field results in damage to the ISS, the appropriate states (depending on what specifically was damaged) can file for compensation from India.

The only example of this in action was in 1978 when the Soviet Union lost control of a nuclear powered satellite which then deorbited and spread debris over Northwestern Canada, some of which was radioactive. The Soviets paid roughly $3,000,000 to compensate for the cleanup efforts.

Edit: Adding some clarification to better address the question. While the Space Liability Convention doesn't differentiate damage caused by actions of a military context, it's a reasonable assumption that there could be ramifications separate from the treaty. For example, demonstrating the ability to destroy satellites might be perceived as provocation or aggression by another state, who might then respond more harshly to any damages it caused them (from sanctions to outright military action, hypothetically). But in the specific case of India, I think it's unlikely; They seem to be on friendly enough terms with the main players in space.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting answer! Does the Space Liability Convention say explicitly if it covers, or does not cover the result of intentional tests of weapons? Or damage caused by byproducts of previous collisions? This case isn't the same as a dead our out-of-control satellite hitting another one in several ways. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 18 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ Not explicitly; it uses the general term "space objects" and there doesn't seem to be a clear definition given. However, some clarification's offered in Article 1(d), that the term includes "component parts of a space object as well as its launch vehicle and parts thereof" which would cover debris. And as conventional/kinetic weapons are permitted under the terms of the Outer Space Treaty, plus the fact that many nations have launched these with no claims of violating it, we can assume the term covers them as well. $\endgroup$ – srikor Apr 18 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ Another thing to consider is who would be the party "causing the damage" in case of hitting the debris cloud of one vehicle that was destroyed through collision with another. ASAT A launched from India hits satellite B owned by India but launched from China, and later satellite C owned by Australia but launched from the USA gets hit by debris from satellite B. Is China responsible (as it launched that satellite) or India. Bit of a potential grey area. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Apr 18 at 10:00
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Under the Outer Space Treaty, countries are required to pay for damage they cause. However, this has never been put to the test. The only time it could have actually been litigated was the iridium-cosmos crash in 2009. However, that case was settled privately (Neither party initiated legal proceeding under the outer space treaty).

What this means is that no one really knows. I would not be surprised if a private settlement was the outcome, since this generally gets solved quicker.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you add a supporting link for "that case was settled privately", a news article of some type perhaps? Thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 9 at 1:08

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