Elon Musk is firing back at critics who allege his private space firm’s satellites could result in an orbital traffic jam.
Musk’s SpaceX has already launched hundreds of satellites – with plans to launch tens of thousands more – as part of its “Starlink” broadband internet system. The rapid buildup prompted intensifying scrutiny from international officials who claim the satellites pose a risk to both safety and future competition.
“Space is just extremely enormous, and satellites are very tiny,” the billionaire told the Financial Times in an interview published Thursday. “This is not some situation where we’re effectively blocking others in any way. We’ve not blocked anyone from doing anything, nor do we expect to.”
Musk’s response came weeks after public criticism from European Space Agency director-general Josef Aschbacher. In a separate interview earlier this month with the Financial Times, Aschbacher asserted that Musk has achieved a dominant position in the commercial space industry, while Europe and other nations have been too slow to adapt.
“You have one person owning half of the active satellites in the world,” Aschbacher said. He asserted that Musk was effectively “making the rules” in space and called on European nations to take action to ensure fair competition.
Criticism of SpaceX’s efforts isn’t limited to Europe. Earlier this month, China said it filed a formal complaint with the United Nations, alleging astronauts on China’s space station were forced to take evasive maneuvers due to near collisions with SpaceX satellites.
Officials in Beijing have accused the US of ignoring space treaty obligations. They warned the US to “act responsibly” in space following the incidents.
In his interview, Musk said there was “room for tens of billions of satellites.” He compared SpaceX’s satellite footprint in space to a few thousand vehicles on Earth’s surface.
SpaceX claims the Starlink system will eventually provide expanded, lower-cost access to high-speed broadband internet. The firm has received approval to launch about 12,000 satellites into space, with plans to launch approximately 42,000 as part of its system over time.
Last June, Musk told the firm’s total investments in the Starlink system could approach $30 billion, Reuters reported.
SpaceX is set to compete with Amazon in the commercial space race. The ecommerce giant plans to launch its own constellation of satellites in an initiative dubbed “Project Kuiper.”
SpaceX is one of several firms vying to corner the burgeoning space travel market. The company conducted its first all-civilian spaceflight in September.
During a podcast interview earlier this week, Musk said SpaceX would be capable of flying a human to Mars within 10 years.