Now that we are ending the year we know that the Chinese space station experienced two unexpected events in 2021. According to a complaint filed by the Asian country before the UN Commission on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), Tiangong was forced to implement a “preventive control to avoid collisions” with Starlink satellites.
Beijing explains in a document addressed to the UN Secretary General that the Chinese space station had to carry out evasive maneuvers after “two close encounters” with satellites operated by the American company Starlink. They occurred on July 1 and October 21 respectively, when the Tiangong “was traveling stably” in low Earth orbit.
Danger for taikonauts
The Asian country has also said that the aforementioned close encounters with the Starlink satellites “were dangerous to the life or health of the astronauts aboard the Chinese space station“It has also requested compliance with the Outer Space Treaty for safe and responsible exploration for all members of the same.
For now, according to CNBC, the episodes described in China’s complaint to the UN have not been independently verified. SpaceX, for its part, has not commented on the matter. However, complaints against the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk have grown on the Weibo social network.
The truth is that this is not the first time that the Starlink project has faced complaints. In the past astronomers protested (and still do) for disturbing space observations, then it was the turn of the European Space Agency, which was forced to maneuver your Aeolus observation satellite to a possible risk of collusion with one of Starlink.
SpaceX relies on Starlink’s automatic maneuvering systems to avoid any type of collusion, either with other spacecraft or with orbital debris. According to the company, this automated system “exceeds the industry standard” and reduces human error, providing “exceptional reliability.”
Despite SpaceX’s confidence in its systems, concerns about potential collisions are a fact, although fortunately none have been recorded so far. Of course, the constellation will continue to grow, and with it possibly the risk. There are currently more than 1700 active satellites in orbit and the company plans to raise that number to 42,000 satellites.
Image | Starlink