China filed a formal complaint to the United Nations (UN) on Dec. 6 about collision risks the SpaceX’s Starlink satellites pose to its manned space station.
The complaint noted that the China Space Station had two close encounters with SpaceX Starlink satellites in 2021, once on July 1 and another on Oct. 21, causing the space station to engage in collision avoidance maneuvers.
In the first incident, a Starlink satellite had dropped from 555 km to 382 km, potentially putting it in the space station’s path. The station was able to calculate the satellite’s position and maneuver itself to safety.
The second incident was more nerve-wracking. The complaint explained that because the problem satellite was constantly moving, seemingly at random, it was difficult to predict where it was heading, thus creating a collision hazard. The China Space Station again took evasive actions to prevent a possible accident.
The China Space Station resides in low earth orbit (LEO), hovering at around 390 km above ground. Most Starlink satellites also operate in LEO, but often at around 500 km.
The complaint wrote that China has a duty to inform the UN of any dangers to the well-being of astronauts in outer space, as required by the Outer Space Treaty.
Starlink satellite internet aims to provide global internet service from space. To date, Starlink has launched over 1,800 satellites, and hopes to one day launch 40,000. The satellites are already raising concerns about space debris despite their low orbits, which makes them easier to decommission and return to earth. Stargazers also worry about the satellites blemishing their pictures since they can appear as streaks during long exposure photography.