China has called on the United States to protect a Chinese space station and its three-member crew, after Beijing complained that satellites launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX nearly collided with the space station.
The incidents allegedly occurred on July 1 and October 21 this year. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman accused the US of ignoring its treaty obligations to protect the safety of the Tiangong station's crew.
According to Chinese officials, the Tiangong performed "evasive manoeuvres" to "prevent a potential collision" with Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX.
The Chinese government has lodged an official complaint with the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
The US should "take immediate measures to prevent such incidents from happening again", official spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
Zhao accused the US of failing to carry out its obligations to "protect the safety of astronauts" under a 1967 treaty on the peaceful use of space.
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 the space station on October 16 for a six-month mission.
SpaceX plans to launch about 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.
Musk slammed on Chinese social media
Musk has become a well-known figure in China, though Tesla's electric-vehicle business has come under growing scrutiny from regulators.
In a post on Weibo (a Chinese Twitter-style platform), one user said Starlink's satellites were "just a pile of space junk", while another described them as "American space warfare weapons".
"The risks of Starlink are being gradually exposed, the whole human race will pay for their business activities," another Weibo user posted.
There are nearly 30,000 satellites and other debris believed to be orbiting the planet and scientists have urged governments to share data to reduce the risk of catastrophic space collisions.
- With AAP/Reuters