Sciences. In space, tensions between China and Elon Musk

China on Tuesday accused the United States of a “serious threat” to the safety of its astronauts after two satellites of billionaire Elon Musk failed to collide, according to Beijing, with its space station.

According to a document sent in early December by Beijing to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna, the Chinese space station Tiangong had to carry out twice, in July and October, maneuvers to avoid “an encounter” with the SpaceX team. The Chinese space agency reacted “to guarantee the safety and survival of astronauts in orbit,” the document added.

“Prepare to boycott Tesla”

SpaceX did not comment on this information on Tuesday, which upset Chinese internet users. “Get ready to boycott Tesla,” said a user of the social network Weibo, under a hashtag viewed more than 87 million times. “There is no shortage of irony: The Chinese are buying Tesla, giving Musk money to launch (satellites) and launch them into the Chinese space station,” thundered another.

Beijing on Tuesday accused the United States of “failing to meet its international obligations” in space, without specifically targeting the world’s richest man. “This constitutes a serious threat to the life and safety of Chinese astronauts,” diplomat spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized the press.

1,500 satellites launched by Elon Musk

Elon Musk, who was just named Personality of the Year by American Time magazine, is well known in China for his Tesla electric cars. China is a crucial market for the billionaire Canada-United States of South African descent. Tesla sells about a quarter of its production domestically and has a plant in Shanghai. However, the automaker has come under fire in recent months due to accidents and data protection concerns.

In space, SpaceX launched a constellation of more than 1,500 satellites, Starlink, destined to bring the Internet connection to the four corners of the world. This constellation has notably increased the movement of objects in space. “We have seen an increase in the number of collision risks since the start of the Starlink deployment,” Jonathan McDowell, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the United States, told AFP.

China launched the main module of its Tiangong space station (the “Heavenly Palace”) this year, which will be completed next year.
Two crews of three astronauts have succeeded each other since June.

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