Elon Musk is no stranger to controversy. The world’s richest man has made plenty of waves over the past year. With his strong views on climate change, robotics, cryptocurrency, and now space travel, TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year is always under scrutiny for his bewildering goals. And it seems the controversy surrounding the entrepreneur isn’t waning, as Musk brings in the New Year with a fresh controversy surrounding his company, SpaceX, as recent news accuses Musk of endangering the lives of some astronauts.
A report issued to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs on December 6th from China claims that Starlink satellites constituted dangers to the life or health of astronauts aboard the China Space Station. Beijing claimed the Starlink satellites of Elon Musk’s company had a close encounter with the space station not once, but twice this past year. In the letter, China stated they had to implement preventative collision avoidance control in both July and October, respectfully.
The satellites in question from Elon Musk are part of their Starlink constellation. Providing satellite internet access throughout the world, the constellation contains over 1,700 satellites, with plans for more. The project from Musk initially began in 2014 with product development. In 2018, two prototype test-flight satellites were launched. By 2019, the United States Federal Communications Commission submitted filings to the International Telecommunication Union on SpaceX’s behalf that paved the way for 2021’s partnership with the Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure to provide on-ground computer and networking services.
With Elon Musk and SpaceX’s successful Starlink launch, many astronomers held reserves. Questioning the effect of the satellites on ground-based astronomy and how the satellites would affect an already jam-packed orbital environment, Elon Musk mitigated concerns when SpaceX announced the satellites were designed to avoid collisions based on tracking data. Neither Musk nor SpaceX has yet to make a public response to the claims, and it will surely be interesting to see just what exactly the outspoken Musk will have to say.
Community Party newspaper the Global Times was reported to have speculated that both the incidents could have been deliberate attempts by SpaceX to test China’s response in space. And of course, proponents of Elon Musk are having a hay day with the news, as some reports show comments from users claiming the satellites are just piles of space junk. Similarly, while Musk has become a well-known figure in China, his electric car company, Tesla, has come under growing scrutiny from regulators, particularly after a customer climbed on top of a Tesla car at the Shanghai auto show in April to protest against poor customer service.
As the news surrounding the incident with the Chinese space station and SpaceX unfolds, the issue shines light on a much bigger problem astronomers have been long calling out. Voicing concerns over the risks of collisions in space, many are calling on the world’s governments to openly share information on the estimated 30,000 satellites and other space debris orbiting Earth. In fact, just last month NASA was forced to abruptly postpone a spacewalk from the International Space Station over concerns about space debris.
As Elon Musk once again finds himself tied up in the nasty affairs of progress for mankind, we absolutely cannot wait to see how the billionaire will clap back at this recent controversy. Meanwhile he’s busy changing the way we use just about everything in our lives. He has even opened a secret school with a lot of crazy ideas about how to educate kids.