China accused the US of failing to take responsibility for problems caused by satellites launched by Elon Musk’s backed SpaceX, highlighting the potential risk of conflict between the world’s two leading space-faring nations.
The US did not respond to requests for information when SpaceX’s Starlink satellites came dangerously close to the Chinese space station last year, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday.
“In orbit, Chinese astronauts faced real and urgent safety threats,” Zhao said. “After the accident, China’s relevant authorities tried to reach the US by email several times but received no response.”
The Chinese statement came after a new incident involving SpaceX satellites, in which the company said up to 40 of its 49 low-orbit satellites launched on 3 February were hit by a geomagnetic storm and fell back to Earth.
China told the United Nations in December that there had been “close encounters” when satellites approached the Chinese space station last July and October. The US responded last month, saying it was not necessary to send notifications to China because the incidents did not meet the threshold of established criteria for emergency collisions.
“If there had been a significant likelihood of a collision with the Chinese space station, the United States would have transmitted a close approach notification directly to the designated Chinese point of contact,” the US said in a 28 January submission to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.