Monday, October 11, 2010

Insat 4b and the Chinese worm

        Is there a war in space?  Post Cold War there was one between the US and the former Soviet Union. Is there one now between India and China? 

       If at all there is such a space war between both the Asian space giants it started on July 7,2010, exactly five days before the launch of Cartosat-2b, when India's powerful communication satellite, Insat-4b, got crippled on account of a power problem. This resulted in 12 of its 24 transponders not operating.

        Isro swung into action and initiated a probe to find out what went wrong? Three months have passed and there is no official word as yet from Isro to what could have caused the mysterious malfunction of this satellite ,which has been operating flawlessly since its launch in March 2007.

       However, on Monday, cyber warfare exoert, Jeffrey Carr, has raised the possibility in his blog published in Forbes, of China striking at our satellite through the deadly Stuxnet internet worm. But, he has said that there was no conclusive proof regarding this.

       Based on Carr's speculation space experts have not totally dismissed the possibility of China trying to cripple India's space programmes. The reason: India is an acknowledged emerging global space power with a string of successes which may prove a threat to China. Infact Carr himself has reported in his blog that ``China and India are competing with each other to see who will be the first to land another astronaut on the moon. China has announced a date of 2025, while India is claiming 2020,'' he has written.

      Isro has scotched suggestions that India was in a race with China to land a person on the moon. That is not all, Carr is also unaware that unlike China, India has so far not laid out a clear road map regarding its future lunar missions post Chandrayaan-2. This is a sorry state of affairs. So, the date of India putting an Indian on the moon, which Carr says is 2020, has not yet been firmed up.

       When ``Beyond Moon and Mars'' contacted Isro, it ruled out any chances of the Stuxnet worm striking at Insat-4b since it does not have what is known as a programme logic controller (PLC). An Isro official said that the Stuxnet worm only attacks PLC's. The role of the PLC is to control the entire ``logic of the spacecraft. Instead the Insat-4b has its indigenously designed software. But two retired officials of Isro's Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Mahendra Giri in Tamilnadu claim that Insat-4b had S7-400 PLC manufactured by Siemens.

       So, the question is there is a space war between India and China?  My friend Pradeep Mohandas, a space expert and secy of the India chapter of the Moon Society speculates that China's own Chinasat-6a suffered a helium pressurisation problem after launch. Pradeep wonders by any chance if China struck its own satellite with the Stuxnet worm too, merely to cover up its attack on Insat-4b. Again this is just pure guess work!




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