WASHINGTON – The Chinese government is open to establishing formal lines of communication with the United States on space security issues following a couple of alleged close calls by Starlink satellites with China’s space station.
At a news conference on February 10, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, reiterated allegations made by the country to the UN in December that it had to maneuver its space station twice in 2021 to avoid close approaches from SpaceX Starlink satellites.
“China has fulfilled the international obligation set out in Article V of the Outer Space Treaty by informing the United Nations of the dangerous approach of Starlink satellites to the Chinese space station, which threatened the safety of Chinese astronauts in orbit.” he said according to a government transcriptadding that “the Chinese astronauts in orbit faced real and urgent security threats.”
China submitted its message to the UN, he said, after failing to consult US officials. “Following the incidents, China’s competent authorities repeatedly tried to reach the US side via email, but received no response,” he said.
However, the US government is telling a different story. IN it’s own verbal notes submitted to the UNdated January 28 and released by the United Nations Office on External Space on February 3, the United States says it has never heard from the Chinese government about the close approximations of satellites designated Starlink-1095 and Starlink-2305.
“The United States is unaware of any contact or attempt by China to contact the United States Space Command, the operators of Starlink-1095 and Starlink-2305 or any other entity in the United States to share information or concerns about the said incidents prior to the note verbal from China to the Secretary-General, “the United States Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Vienna said in the document.
The statement added that an analysis by the US Space Forces 18th Space Control Squadron found no evidence that any of the Starlink satellites approached China’s space station that met the “threshold for established emergency collision criteria” and therefore “emergency messages were not justified. in any of them. case. ” Had such approaches met these criteria, “the United States would have given a close message directly to the designated Chinese contact point.”
It has been difficult to get in touch with Chinese officials in the past. “We do not know exactly who to contact on the Chinese side,” Bill Gerstenmaier, vice president of construction and aviation safety at SpaceX, said during a panel at the AIAA ASCEND conference in November. He said that SpaceX is checking whether its Starlink satellites are approaching each other with the International Space Station and China’s space station.
While announcements of close access to the ISS are straightforward, SpaceX has had to work with the State Department and other U.S. government agencies to obtain announcements to China. “We provide information to the State Department, but I do not know what happens after,” he said.
“I just want to say that it is very complicated and very cumbersome,” added Mark Mulholland, Chief Engineer for Space Traffic Management and Space Situation Awareness at the Office of Space Commerce, on the same panel.
At the February 10 press conference, Zhou said China was open to more formal lines of communication with the United States on space security. “In order to protect the security of Chinese astronauts and space stations, the Chinese side is ready to establish a long-term communication mechanism with the US side and hopes that the United States will take concrete measures to prevent such an incident from recurring.” he said.
The American verbal notes does not disclose how close any of the Starlink satellites were predicted to reach the space station before China maneuvered the station, and independent analyzes have not given consensus on how close both approaches were to the station. ONE study of COMSPOC found that Starlink satellites account for only about 7% of all close access to China’s space station, the majority of which comes from waste, including from China’s own anti-satellite weapons test in 2007.
“These results suggest that Starlink spacecraft do not place an unnecessary flight safety burden on the crew of the Tiangong space station or their flight dynamics personnel compared to other active spacecraft passing through Tiangong’s orbital elevations,” COMSPAC’s Dan Oltrogge and Sal Alfano concluded in January. 3 rating. “But the data highlights the importance of sharing orbital and maneuvering information” as recommended by the UN Guidelines for Long-Term Sustainability in Space.