China beats the US after the space station’s “close encounters” with Elon Musk’s satellites

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Beijing on Tuesday accused the United States of irresponsible and unsafe behavior in space over two “close encounters” between the Chinese space station and satellites operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Tiangong, China’s new space station, had to maneuver to avoid colliding with one Starlink satellite in July and another in October, according to a release Beijing sent to the United Nations Space Agency earlier this month.

The note stated that the incidents “presented a threat to the life or health of astronauts aboard the China space station.”

“The US … ignores its international treaty obligations and poses a serious threat to the life and safety of astronauts,” Chinese State Department spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a routine briefing on Tuesday.

Starlink, a division of SpaceX, operates a constellation of nearly 2,000 satellites aimed at providing Internet access to most of the world.

SpaceX is a privately owned American company that is independent from the US military and civil space agency NASA.

However, China said in its communication to the United Nations that the members of the space treaty – the basis of international space law – are also responsible for the actions of their non-governmental organizations.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

Evasive maneuvers to reduce the risk of collision in space are becoming more common as more objects enter Earth orbit, said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“We’ve really noticed the increase in the number of tight passes since Starlink was deployed,” he told AFP.

Any collision would likely “completely destroy” the Chinese space station and kill everyone on board, McDowell added.

The core module of the Chinese Tiangong Station – which means “heavenly palace” – entered orbit earlier this year and should be fully operational next year.

“Prepare to Boycott Tesla”

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

A hashtag on the subject on the Twitter-like Weibo platform received 90 million views Tuesday.

“How ironic that the Chinese are buying Tesla and donating large sums of money so that Musk can launch Starlink and then (almost) crash into China’s space station,” commented a user on Weibo.

Musk’s electric car maker Tesla sells tens of thousands of vehicles each month in China, despite the company’s reputation plummeting this year after a spate of accidents, scandals and data security concerns.

“Prepare to boycott Tesla,” said another Weibo user, repeating a common reaction in China to foreign brands that are perceived as being against national interests.

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