China’s space station has twice been forced to take evasive action to avoid colliding with small satellites launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the country said in a United Nations complaint.
In incidents in July and October, SpaceX satellites drifted perilously close to China’s space station, potentially putting the “life or health of astronauts” on board in danger, China said in a note filed with the UN’s space agency in December.
“For safety reasons, the China Space Station implemented preventive collision avoidance control,” China said.
The small satellites involved in the alleged incidents were among nearly 2,000 that have been launched by SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Services division. The service beams down internet to Earthbound customers in remote areas who have little access to traditional internet service providers.
China asked the UN to remind nations that have signed an international agreement called the Outer Space Treaty, which includes the US, that they “bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space … whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities,” the South China Morning Post reported.
Chinese state media pounced on the alleged incidents, with government newspaper the Global Times writing on Monday that SpaceX could be attempting to “test China’s sensibility in space.”
SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The alleged incidents have sparked anger on Chinese social media sites, with one Weibo user calling SpaceX’s satellites “just a pile of space junk” and another describing them as “American space warfare weapons.”
“The risks of Starlink are being gradually exposed, the whole human race will pay for their business activities,” a third user wrote.
Musk’s other company, Tesla, also faced scrutiny in China this April after a disgruntled customer staged a protest over the safety of the company’s electric cars that was shared widely on social media. Tesla later apologized to the customer.
As Tesla has sought to push into the Chinese market in recent years, Musk has lavished praise on the country despite tensions with the US.
But back in 2015, the Tesla CEO was more blunt about China posing a threat to his ambitions in space.
Speaking about a hypothetical situation in which SpaceX’s Starlink satellites beamed uncensored internet into China, Musk said the Chinese government could shoot down his satellites.
“If they get upset with us, they can blow our satellites up, which wouldn’t be good,” Musk said. “China can do that. So probably we shouldn’t broadcast there.”
With Post wires