China says its space station had to dodge a collision with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites

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China is calling on the United States to protect a Chinese space station and its three-member crew after Beijing complained that satellites launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX nearly struck the station.

A foreign ministry spokesman accused Washington on Tuesday of ignoring its treaty obligations to protect the safety of the Tiangong station’s three-member crew following the July 1 and Oct. 21 incidents.

The Tiangong performed “evasive manoeuvers” to “prevent a potential collision” with Starlink satellites launched by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the government said in a Dec. 6 complaint to the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

A rocket carrying a crew of astronauts to the Chinese space station lifts off at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan in northwestern China, in June 2021. Chinese authorities say satellites launched by SpaceX nearly collided with the space station while astronauts were inside. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

The United States should “take immediate measures to prevent such incidents from happening again,” said the spokesman, Zhao Lijian.

Zhao accused Washington of failing to carry out its obligations to “protect the safety of astronauts” under a 1967 treaty on the peaceful use of space.

The American Embassy in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The importance of the space station to China

Musk also is chairman of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla, Inc. The company opened its first factory outside the United States in Shanghai in 2019.

The Tiangong, however, is a prestige project for the ruling Communist Party, making it unlikely Beijing would tolerate disruption even by a major foreign investor in China.

The main module of the Tiangong was launched in April. Its first crew returned to Earth in September following a 90-day mission. The second crew of two men and one woman arrived on Oct. 16 for a six-month mission.

Men walk past a display depicting astronauts and the Chinese space station at a mall in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

SpaceX plans to launch some 2,000 Starlink satellites as part of a global internet system to bring internet access to underserved areas. In its 34th and latest launch, SpaceX sent 52 satellites into orbit aboard a rocket Dec. 18.



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