Space issues: China and Musk’s row in space

What is the News?

Recently, China has said that its astronauts aboard the Tiangong Space Station had to take evasive measures to avoid a potential collision with two of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. After this, China has also complained to the United Nations detailing the alleged space incidents.

Why did China approach the UN?

Both the U.S and China are parties to the Outer Space Treaty. The treaty provides the basic framework for international space law.

China has referred to articles V, VI and VII of the treaty in the complaint filed with the UN.

Article V: It requires parties to immediately inform other parties or the UN Secretary-General of any phenomenon they discover in outer space which could constitute a danger to the life or health of astronauts.

Article VI: Nations will be responsible for national space activities, whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities.

Article VII: It states that nations will be liable for damage caused by their space objects, such as satellites.

How does the UN help with space issues?

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs was created to service the ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space(COPUS). The committee was established in 1958 shortly after the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1. It has been serving as a focal point for international cooperation in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space.

Moreover, several multilateral treaties have been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to enable the orderly conduct of activities in outer space. The cornerstone of these is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

Four other treaties were also adopted to reinforce the framework set by the Outer Space Treaty. These treaties are: 

The Rescue Agreement of 1968 requires States to assist an astronaut in case of accident, distress, emergency or unintended landing.

The Liability Convention of 1972 establishes the standards of liability for damage caused by space objects.

The Registration Convention of 1975 requires States to register all objects launched into outer space with the United Nations.

The Moon Agreement of 1979 elaborates on the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty as they apply to the Moon and other celestial bodies.

Read more: Space Debris
Can such space incidents happen again?

Space-related conflicts have occurred in the past and will most likely continue to happen in the future as well, considering the growing number of activities in space involving different parties.

For instance, the cosmos 954, a nuclear-powered surveillance satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1977, crashed in northern Canada in 1978. It scattered an enormous amount of hazardous radioactive debris over Canadian territory. The USSR paid C$3 million to Canada as compensation for the clean-up operation.

Read more: India and the geopolitics of the moon

Source: This post is based on the articleChina and Musk’s row in spacepublished in The Hindu on 4th Jan 2022.

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