Beijing says it complained to the United Nations about near misses its space station allegedly had with SpaceX satellites, a sign that tensions are rising in the space race between China and the U.S.
Two satellites from the U.S. company founded by Elon Musk came close to the station in July and October, forcing astronauts on board to take evasive action, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing.
The Chinese government told UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres about the incident on Dec. 3, Zhao said, adding the U.S. wasn’t meeting its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty.
“The U.S., while talking about the concept of responsible outer space behavior, is in practice ignoring its obligations under the treaty,” Zhao said, remarking that the incidents endangered the station’s taikonauts, the Chinese name for astronauts.
The space rivalry between the U.S. and China has been heating up in recent years. Earlier this month a top Chinese scientist said his nation may be able to send astronauts to the moon for the first time by 2030. Those comments came just weeks after President Joe Biden’s top space official set out a similar timetable for new American lunar exploration, setting up the possibility of dueling missions between two of the world’s best-financed space powers.
Both China and the U.S. are signatories to the space treaty, which holds nations “responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities.” It also says states are liable for damage caused by their space objects.
SpaceX has more than 1,600 Starlink satellites in orbit. Musk is also CEO of Tesla Inc., which has received unprecedented policy concessions and extensive government assistance in building a factory in Shanghai.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent outside regular business hours.
China launched its Shenzhou-13 spaceship on Oct. 16, sending three astronauts on a six-month mission to its Tianhe space station, according to the Xinhua News Agency. Zhai Zhigang and Ye Guangfu worked outside the station earlier this week, the official news agency said, citing the China Manned Space Agency. –Bloomberg