China says Musk’s SpaceX Satellites Came Close To Its Space Station Twice, Endangering Astronauts

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BEIJING, Dec 28 (PTI): China on Tuesday alleged that US billionaire Elon Musk-owned SpaceX’s satellites had two “close encounters” with its space station in orbit, and has complained to the UN about the incidents which endangered the safety of the Chinese astronauts.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, addressing a media briefing here, said that the Chinese space station was forced to avoid collisions with satellites launched by Musk’s Starlink Internet Services project.

“I can confirm in July and October this year SpaceX satellite links made close encounters with China’s space station twice,” Zhao said.

During this period, the Chinese astronauts were executing missions in the Space Station (CSS), he said, replying to a question.

“Out of security reasons, the Chinese space station adopted preventive collision avoidance control measures,” he said.

Zhao said China has complained to the UN Secretary on December 3 about the SpaceX satellites’ close encounters under the principles of Outer Space Treaty, warranting the signatories to report any violations to protect the lives of astronauts.

He said that under the treaty, the parties should bear the international responsibility for the activities in outer space whether by governmental or non-governmental entities.

The incidents occurred on July 1 and October 21, according to a document submitted by China this month to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, according to media reports.

Accusing the US of ignoring its obligations under the treaty posing a severe threat to the astronauts, Zhao urged Washington to take measures to prevent such close encounters from happening again and “act in a responsible manner”.

The CSS “Tiangong” has stayed in a near-circular orbit at an altitude of around 390 kms above the earth since it was launched on April 29.

Since its launch, China has sent two batches of three astronauts to build the under-construction CSS which was expected to be ready by next year.

In October, China sent three astronauts, including a woman.

Billed as the most prestigious and strategically important space project for China, the low orbit space station would be the country’s eye in the sky, providing round the clock bird’s-eye view on the rest of the world.

Once ready, China will be the only country to own a space station while the ageing International Space Station (ISS) of Russia is a collaborative project of several countries.

CSS is expected to be a competitor to the ISS and perhaps may become a sole space station to remain in orbit once the ISS retires.

The Hong Kong-based South Morning Post reported that from May 16 to June 24, the Starlink-1095 satellite maintained a steady descent from its original 555 km-altitude orbit to around 382 km, and then stayed there, posing the risk of a potential collision with CSS.

 

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