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China slams SpaceX founder Elon Musk over near satellite collision in space

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Billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk has found himself in hot water with China after his satellites strayed a little too close to the superpower’s space station orbiting Earth.

Chinese state media took the world’s richest man to task over two separate incidents occurring in July and October, where SpaceX satellites drifted dangerously close to China’s space station. In a note filed with the UN’s space agency in December, critics claimed the SpaceX vessel had potential to put the “life or health of astronauts” on board in danger.

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

The small satellites involved in the alleged incidents were among nearly 2,000 launched by SpaceX’s Starlink internet Services division. The hi-tech service casts internet to customers in remote areas who have limited access to traditional internet service providers.

State media outlet The South China Morning Post reported Chinese officials asked the UN to remind nations that under an international agreement called the Outer Space Treaty, US-launched satellites “bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities”.

The Global Times also took aim at Musk, claiming SpaceX could be attempting to feel out the superpower’s “capacity” in space.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that the move is intended to test China’s capacity in space to check whether China can accurately grasp the satellites’ actions,” aerospace science expert Huang Zhicheng told the outlet.

Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre Jonathan McDowell said the issue of dealing with collisions in space wasn’t as rare as most people realise, revealing US stations have been forced to make evasive manoeuvres to dodge space junk, which he says often comes from Chinese programs.

He said China doesn’t have a “clean record” when it comes to the matter, which he believes has marked a “new era in space” for world governments.

“It is also fair to say that the US space station has several times over the past 10 years had to dodge pieces from the Chinese military anti-satellite test of 2007,” McDowell said via the Guardian. Continue Reading

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