China Accuses US Its Space Station Had to Dodge Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites

The Chinese space agency complained to the UN about two evasive maneuvers required to avoid ‘close encounters’ with orbiting Starlink devices.

The China Manned Space Program launched five missions successfully this year, but those achievements were overshadowed by two near-collisions.

China claimed in a complaint filed with the United Nations earlier this month that it had to conduct evasive maneuvers on its space station twice to avoid “close encounters” with SpaceX Starlink satellites.

The first incident occurred on July 1 between the Starlink-1095 satellite—which lowered its orbiting altitude between May and June—and the China Space Station. The second near-crash happened on Oct. 21, when the Starlink-2305 satellite threatened impact with the CSS and its on-board astronauts.

The letter, dated December 6, asks UN Secretary General António Guterres to remind participating countries of their “international responsibility” to carryout cosmic activities “in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty.” Beyond simply nudge member states, it’s unclear what actions China expects the UN to take.

It’s not just an internet constellation space explorers have to watch out for. In October 2020, segments of an old Russian satellite and a Chinese rocket passed within 76 yards of each other in low Earth orbit, narrowly avoiding a high-risk accident.

SpaceX, meanwhile, had to shift some Starlink orbits early this month to reduce the probability of contact with debris from Russia’s anti-satellite missile test. Space debris can travel up to 17,500 miles per hour, leading even the smallest artifact to cause serious damage if it strikes a spacecraft or astronaut. To avoid precisely these circumstances, each Starlink device is equipped with an “autonomous collision avoidance” system.

China Accuses US Its Space Station Had to Dodge Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites
An artist’s conception shows the deployment of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. (SpaceX Illustration)
Prepare to boycott Tesla

Beijing’s complaint about Starlink prompted criticism on Chinese social media of SpaceX’s billionaire founder Musk, who is widely admired in China.

One hashtag about the topic on the Twitter-like Weibo platform racked up 90 million views Tuesday.

“How ironic that Chinese people buy Tesla, contributing large sums of money so Musk can launch Starlink, and then he (nearly) crashes into China’s space station,” one user commented.

Musk’s electric car maker Tesla sells tens of thousands of vehicles in China each month, though the firm’s reputation has taken a hit this year following a spate of crashes, scandals and data security concerns.

“Prepare to boycott Tesla,” said another Weibo user, echoing a common response in China to foreign brands perceived to be acting contrary to national interests.

READ MORE: The Trail of Starlink Satellites was Captured by the ISS. How Can We Watch These Satellites?

China Accuses US Its Space Station Had to Dodge Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites

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