According to a notice sent by China to the United Nations space agency earlier this month, the Chinese space station Tiangong had to adjust to avoid colliding with a Starlink satellite – a division of Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The Chinese foreign ministry warned on Tuesday that the US violated international space treaty duties, placing astronauts in danger.
The Chinese station was obliged to maneuver twice: first in July and again in October. The accidents, according to the note, “posed a risk to astronauts aboard the China Space Station’s life or health.”
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, urged the United States to act responsibly in space.
“The United States… defies its international treaty commitments, posing a severe threat to astronauts’ lives and safety,” Lijian said during a normal press briefing.
Beijing said in its note to the UN that members of the Outer Space Treaty, which forms the basis of international space law, are also responsible for actions by their non-government entities.
The private American company SpaceX is independent of the US military and civilian space agency NASA.
What could have happened in the event of a collision?
Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics on Tuesday warned that any collision would likely “completely demolish” the Chinese space station and kill everyone on board.
“We’ve really noticed the increase in the number of close passes since Starlink started getting deployed,” he told French news agency AFP. Starlink operates some 2,000 satellites that aims to provide widespread internet access.