In early December, the People’s Republic of China claimed in a complaint to a United Nations committee that its space station, known as the Tiangong, has had to employ evasive maneuvers to avoid collisions with Starlink satellites owned by Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX. The United States has a treaty obligation to protect the safety of the Tiangong station’s three-member crew.
Though the phrase “outer space” connotes infinite expanses, the reality is that low-earth orbit involves limited and pretty crowded room. And it is getting more so.
SpaceX launched 52 satellites into orbit on one rocket, on December 18. This is part of its Starlink program, and it plans in time to have roughly 2,000 Starlink satellites. They are meant to be nodes in a system that will bring internet access to underserved areas.
Strange New Worlds:
Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who has commanded the International Space Station, has warned about the growing overcrowding and the increasing likelihood of a serious accident. He told a reporter, “If you sit quietly on the space station and wait, you can actually hear things hitting the hull. So it’s kind of a reminder that you’re in both the natural and human-made shooting gallery.”