A pair of precariously close space confronts is adding to tensions between the U.S. and China. While underscoring the likely peril to cosmonauts as satellite constellations and debris proliferate in orbit.
Two SpaceX satellites had near escapes with China’s space station earlier this year. One of them is within 4 km (2.5 miles) — in the most recent sign of dangerous congestion in low earth orbit.
In both instances, the circling lab-made vague maneuvers in order to avoid the Starlink satellites. This is in operation Elon Musk’s space venture. The edge for a near-miss in October can have as little as a few hundred meters. This is if the cosmonauts onboard the space station did not shift to a different altitude. This is according to information by astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell.
The close confronts prompt the Chinese government in order to criticize SpaceX. This is on a 6th December memo to a United Nations committee that supervises operations in space. China’s objection can prompt international action on controlling overcrowding in space.
McDowell is an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics, which is in operation by Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution. He mentions the following –
- “Initially, when I saw this Chinese U.N. document, I went, ‘That’s a bit rich of the Chinese, given the space debris they have generated”
- “But I think it’s a good sign.”
By highlighting the concern to the U.N. panel, China can spur the global community. This is in order to update a pact rooted in the Cold War, as well as an informal system that trusts operators. This is in order to email warnings of possible collisions to each other, McDowell adds.
He totals more than 4,800 commercial satellites in operation, just about double the total from five years ago. This is along with a debris field of about 19,000 objects huge enough to be tracked on radar.
The International Space Station, in which the U.S. is a partner, faces close calls of its own.