The U.S. is refuting claims by China that SpaceX’s Starlink satellites endangered its space station and astronauts last year.
In a letter to the United Nations dated January 28, the U.S. reiterated that it is “committed to sustainable, rules-based activities in outer space, whether those activities are performed by Governments or by non-governmental entities, including the private sector.”
According to the letter, if there had been a “significant probability of collision” with the China Space Station, the U.S. would have given notice to China ahead of time.
In December 2021, China reported that its space station had two close encounters with Starlink satellites, forcing its taikonauts to conduct evasive maneuvers to avoid collision. The near-misses happened in April and October of 2021.
In its letter, the U.S. said it has provided spaceflight safety information to the Chinese government since November 2014, including high-risk collision hazards.
“Because the activities did not meet the threshold of established emergency collision criteria, emergency notifications were not warranted in either case,” the U.S. wrote.
According to the Chinese government, during both near-misses, the Starlink satellites changed their preexisting course, eventually moving into the same orbit as the Chinese Space Station, which orbits at an altitude of 390 km. The satellites were originally set to orbit at an altitude of 382 km.
Recent anti-satellite tests conducted by Russia created thousands of pieces of debris, threatening the safety of American astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS). After being forced to shelter-in-place, the debris crossed the ISS’s orbit every 90 minutes, which brought international condemnation of Russia’s “reckless” activites.