Elon Musk has rejected claims that SpaceX’s satellites are taking up too much room after China complained its Tiangong space station had suffered two near-misses.

The Tesla founder told the Financial Times that there is room for “tens of billions” of spacecraft to orbit the earth, adding: “This is not some situation where we’re effectively blocking others in any way. We’ve not blocked anyone from doing anything, nor do we expect to.”

The comments were in response to a claim from Josef Aschbacher, head of the European Space Agency, that Musk was “making the rules” for the commercial space industry.

China recently complained that its Tiangong space station had had two “close encounters” with SpaceX Starlink satellites this year, forcing it to alter course to avoid a collision.

In a diplomatic note presented to the United Nations earlier this month, the Chinese delegation requested that the UN secretary general remind countries of their “international responsibility for national activities in outer space … whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities”.

Musk faced heavy criticism from Chinese Internet users after the country’s media reported details of the complaint earlier this week.

“Come out and explain the Starlink satellites, which have threatened the lives and health of our astronauts,” one person commented on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

On Tuesday foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused Washington of ignoring its treaty obligations to protect the safety of Chinese astronauts.

“The United States should take immediate measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, and adopt a responsible attitude to safeguard the lives of astronauts in orbit and the safe and stable operation of space facilities,” Zhao told a regular press conference.

Musk’s private space company SpaceX has launched almost 1,900 satellites as part of the Starlink network and plans to deploy tens of thousands more.

Musk is one of the highest-profile foreign investors in China and he recently said Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory, which started operations in late 2019, is now producing more cars than its factory in Fremont, California.

In a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in 2019, Musk said he loved China and wanted to come to the country more often. Li replied that he would be happy to give Musk a “Chinese green card”.

In July, he praised China’s economic development and infrastructure as the Communist Party celebrated its centenary, tweeting: “the economic prosperity that China has achieved is truly amazing, especially in infrastructure! I encourage people to visit and see for themselves.”

But 2021 was also a tough year for Musk’s Tesla in China. In April, the company’s booth at the Shanghai Auto Show was targeted by a protester complaining about quality problems with its cars. It recalled almost 300,000 cars in China two months later over safety fears. – South China Morning Post



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