Science | December 31, 2021 6:00 am

Two Starlink Satellites Almost Struck China’s Space Station This Year

Is Earth's orbit getting too crowded?

Space station
A model of China's Tiangong space station is seen at the Apsara Conference.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this year, the core module of China’s Tiangong Space Station arrived in orbit. The space station is currently under construction, which is scheduled to be completed in the second half of last year. When it comes to building things in space, there are always variables to contend with — but in the case of this particular space station, there also appear to be external issues that few could have foreseen. And by “external issues,” we mean “satellites that almost collided with Tiangong,” which sounds like an alarming situation for all involved.

As CNET reports, the Chinese government recently raised the issue with the United Nations. The satellites that nearly struck the space station — once in July and once in October — were a part of SpaceX’s Starlink program.

The Chinese government’s description of what took place in October is especially alarming. “To ensure the safety and lives of in-orbit astronauts, the China Space Station performed an evasive maneuver again on the same day to avoid a potential collision between the two spacecraft,” the letter noted.

The Starlink program is intended to make high-speed internet service more widely available around the world. It’s been highly anticipated by many observers — though the near-collisions with the space station demonstrate a worrying side effecting of having so many satellites in space. As CNET reports, SpaceX currently has 1,900 satellites in orbit, but its license is for over six times that amount.