China has formally lodged a protest with The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) over SpaceX's Starlink satellites, a document published on the latter's website revealed. According to the document, Starlink satellites have had close encounters with the Chinese Space Station risking the health and even life of its astronauts.
Elon Musk founded SpaceX plans to offer satellite-based internet services across the globe and has ambitious plans of launching 12,000 satellites in low-earth orbit to support its service. So far, the company has launched only 1,740 satellites but is already responsible for 1,600 near-collisions each week. The only reason why these satellites have not caused a space mishap yet is due to the autonomous collision avoidance tech that they are armed with. However, the tech seems to have to run them into trouble on more than one occasion.
According to the protest lodged by China, Starlink-1095 had been in orbit at an altitude of 344 miles (555 km) from April 2020, maneuvered to an altitude of 237 miles (382 km) between the months of May and June in 2021. The Chinese Space Station that has been in orbit around 242 miles (390 km) had to take evasive action on July 1 to avoid a potential collision.
A similar incident took place with Starlink-2035 on October 21 as the SpaceX satellite continued to maneuver with an unknown strategy and its "errors were hard to be assessed," forcing the space station to perform an evasive maneuver to ensure the safety of its astronauts, China alleged in its complaint. Both these incidents have not been independently verified and SpaceX has not commented on this so far.
SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk who is popular in China for his Tesla brand of electric cars was, however, at the receiving end of criticism on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo. Users termed Starlink satellites as "a pile of space junk" and "American space warfare weapons," CNBC reported.
Another user commented, "The risks of Starlink are being gradually exposed, the whole human race will pay for their business activities," CNBC reported as it also highlighted the concerns from scientists about the rising space debris.