Chinese internet users attacked Elon Musk, a billionaire, on Tuesday. China claimed that its space station had taken evasive measures to avoid hitting two SpaceX satellites. This is a serious blow to Musk’s image in China, which has adopted his Tesla electric cars.
According to Beijing’s document, China’s Tiangong satellite station had to use “preventive collision avoidance control” in two close encounters with SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. This was according to an official submission to the UN’s Space Agency this month.
According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, both satellites were placed in orbits that caused space station operators to alter their course.
Beijing stated that the manoeuvre strategy of the satellite in October was not known and that orbital errors were difficult to assess. Beijing also said it had taken action to “ensure safety and lives for in-orbit astronauts”.
Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”, is China’s latest accomplishment in its drive to be a major space power. It follows the landing of a Mars rover and sending probes to Moon.
The station’s core module was launched into orbit in January. It is expected that the station will be operational fully by 2022.
Chinese social media users attacked Musk and his companies for the incident. One hashtag had racked up 87,000,000 views as of Tuesday morning.
One user commented, “How ironic that Chinese people bought Tesla, contributing large amounts of money so Musk could launch Starlink and then he [nearly] crashes in to China’s space station.”
One person said, “Prepare for Tesla to be boycotted,” in reference to China’s common response to foreign brands that are perceived as being contrary to Beijing’s national interests.
Some people speculated that Washington might have imposed sanctions on the other side of the equation.
One wrote, “Why don’t we just do the same thing?”
California-based SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment.
Musk is a popular Chinese celebrity, but Tesla’s reputation has suffered this year due to a series of scandals and crashes.
Tesla remains hugely popular, and about one in four of its cars is sold in China. It is also building a rare factory that is wholly owned in Shanghai.