Dec 28, 2021 - World

China accuses SpaceX of endangering its space station

SpaceX Starlink satellites over Turkey in May 2021.

SpaceX Starlink satellites over Turkey in May. Photo: Burhan Ates/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

China, in a report filed to the United Nations earlier this month, accused SpaceX of endangering the country's new space station and taikonauts on board through close encounters with at least two of the company's Starlink internet satellites.

Why it matters: China also accused the U.S. of failing to meet its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty and said it isn't doing enough to ensure that the California-based company complies.

China said a Starlink satellite had a close encounter with its space station on July 1 and the station conducted an evasive maneuver to avoid a collision.

  • It said another close encounter happened on Oct. 21 with a separate Starlink satellite.

What they're saying: "The U.S., while talking about the concept of responsible outer space behavior, is in practice ignoring its obligations under the treaty," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing Tuesday, according to Bloomberg.

  • SpaceX has not publicly commented on the complaint, which was officially filed to the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.

The big picture: SpaceX is attempting to expand internet access around the world through its Starlink Constellation, which is designed to use thousands of relatively low-cost satellites.

  • Since the project's conception, astronomers and regulators have been concerned that the satellites could contribute to the growing problem of space junk.
  • China is developing its own satellite constellation project called "StarNet" through a state-owned company. It plans to launch 10,000 satellites in the next five to 10 years, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.
  • Earlier this year, debris from a Russian anti-satellite weapons test endangered astronauts and cosmonauts onboard the International Space Station.

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