Musk does not seem to be letting Chinese complaints trim his ambitious space plans.
It seems Elon Musk is China’s latest target.
China has filed a complaint to the United Nations, accusing satellites launched by SpaceX, the company founded by billionaire Elon Musk of nearly colliding with its space station.
The two Starlink satellites came close to the space station in July and October, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday in Beijing. At the time, Chinese astronauts were conducting missions on the station, which had to adopt emergency measures to avoid collisions, he said.
In a July presentation to the Federal Communications Commission, SpaceX said it had so far launched around 1,800 Starlink satellites and was active in more than 20 countries.
It plans to rapidly boost the pace of satellite launches in the years ahead. In commission filings, Space X has said it wants to add at least around 30,000 more satellites.
The Chinese seem most put out by the SpaceX satellites.
After the complaint was made public, Mr Musk, Starlink and the US were heavily criticised on China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblogging platform.
One user described Starlink’s satellites as “just a pile of space junk”.
The satellites are “American space warfare weapons” and “Musk is a new ‘weapon’ created by the US government and military”, others said.
Another posted: “The risks of Starlink are being gradually exposed, the whole human race will pay for their business activities.”
China is also accusing the US of ignoring obligations under outer space treaties. Meanwhile, there are indications that China is organizing a boycott of Tesla.
One hashtag about the topic on the Twitter-like Weibo platform racked up 90 million views Tuesday.
“How ironic that Chinese people buy Tesla, contributing large sums of money so Musk can launch Starlink, and then he (nearly) crashes into China’s space station,” one user commented.
Musk’s electric car maker Tesla sells tens of thousands of vehicles in China each month, though the firm’s reputation has taken a hit this year following a spate of crashes, scandals and data security concerns.
“Prepare to boycott Tesla,” said another Weibo user, echoing a common response in China to foreign brands perceived to be acting contrary to national interests.
Musk does not seem to be letting Chinese complaints trim his space plans, which include a Starship that is under development and which already has a key customer.
“There’s a need for connectivity in places that don’t have it right now,” or where connections are very limited or expensive, Mr. Musk said this summer. In addition to consumers, Mr. Musk has indicated Starlink could offer services to other businesses, recently saying in a tweet that fliers should ask airlines for Starlink.
The internet service creates a source of demand for Starship, said Matt Weinzierl, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied the space economy.
Historically, those behind big rockets without a clear use for them have faced challenges: “If we don’t know why we built them, it can be a real losing proposition,” Mr. Weinzierl said, adding he thinks the company will identify other uses for the rocket.
Starship, meanwhile, has at least one confirmed customer in place: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which in April awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop a Starship to take astronauts back to the surface of the moon.
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