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China urges US to protect its space station from satellites

BEIJING (AP) – China is calling on the United States (US) to protect a Chinese space station and its three-member crew after Beijing complained that satellites launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX nearly struck the station.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman accused Washington on Tuesday of ignoring its treaty obligations to protect the safety of the Tiangong station’s three-member crew following the July 1 and October 21 incidents.

The Tiangong performed “evasive manoeuvers” to “prevent a potential collision” with Starlink satellites launched by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the government said in a December 6 complaint to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

The US should “take immediate measures to prevent such incidents from happening again,” said the spokesman Zhao Lijian.

Zhao accused Washington of failing to carry out its obligations to “protect the safety of astronauts” under a 1967 treaty on the peaceful use of space.

The American Embassy in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk also is chairman of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla, Inc. The company opened its first factory outside the US in Shanghai in 2019.

The Tiangong, however, is a prestige project for the ruling Communist Party, making it unlikely Beijing would tolerate disruption even by a major foreign investor in China.

The main module of the Tiangong was launched in April. Its first crew returned to Earth in September following a 90-day mission. The second crew of two men and one woman arrived on October 16 for a six-month mission.

SpaceX plans to launch some 2,000 Starlink satellites as part of a global Internet system to bring Internet access to underserved areas. In its 34th and latest launch, SpaceX sent 52 satellites into orbit aboard a rocket on December 18.

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. PHOTO: AP
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