Elon Musk Faces Backlash In China After ‘Close Encounters’ Between His Starlink Satellites And Chinese Space Station

Billionaire Elon Musk is facing criticism in China after the country recently complained that its budding space station, which is still in construction, had two “close encounters” with satellites launched by SpaceX’s Starlink program earlier this year.

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In incidents in July and October, SpaceX satellites drifted perilously close to China’s space station, potentially putting the “life or health of astronauts” on board in danger, China said in a note filed with the UN’s space agency in December.

“For safety reasons, the China Space Station implemented preventive collision avoidance control,” China said. 

China asked the UN to remind nations that have signed an international agreement  called the Outer Space Treaty, which includes the US, that they “bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space … whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities,” the South China Morning Post reported

China's space station

The Chinese space station was twice forced to take evasive action in order to avoid collision with satellites launched by Musk’s rocket company SpaceX, according to a document submitted by China to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs earlier this month.

According to the document, China informed the U.N. Secretary-General that the close encounters with Starlink satellites “constituted dangers to the life or health of astronauts aboard the China Space Station.”

The news was quickly followed by an intense backlash against Musk on Chinese social media site Weibo, with handfuls of users criticizing the billionaire’s space ambitions, Reuters first reported Monday.

China began building its space station in April 2021 with the successful launch of its Tianhe core module and expects construction to be completed by the end of 2022.

Speaking about a hypothetical situation in which SpaceX’s Starlink satellites beamed uncensored internet into China, Musk said the Chinese government could shoot down his satellites. 

“If they get upset with us, they can blow our satellites up, which wouldn’t be good,” Musk said. “China can do that. So probably we shouldn’t broadcast there.”

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