Soon a call for a boycott of Tesla? Billionaire Elon Musk was taken to task on Chinese social networks on Tuesday after two of his satellites narrowly missed, according to Beijing, colliding with the Asian giant’s space station. The richest man in the world, who has just been voted personality of the year by the American magazine Time, is well known in China for his Tesla electric cars. But his space exploration company SpaceX now earns him the resentment of Internet users.
According to a document sent at the beginning of December by Beijing to the Office for Outer Space Affairs of the United Nations in Vienna, the Chinese space station Tiangong had to twice, in July and October, carry out evasive maneuvers in order to avoid “an encounter “with SpaceX gear. The Chinese space agency had to react “in order to ensure the safety and survival of astronauts in orbit”, added Beijing.
SpaceX did not react to this information on Tuesday, which displeased Chinese Internet users. “Prepare to boycott Tesla,” said a user of the Weibo social network, under a hashtag seen more than 87 million times. “It is not without irony: the Chinese buy Teslas, giving money to Musk to launch (satellites) and throw them against the Chinese space station,” thundered another.
The Chinese market is crucial for the Canadian-American multi-billionaire of South African origin. Tesla sells around a quarter of its production in China and has a factory in Shanghai. The automaker has, however, come under fire in recent months over crashes and data protection concerns.
In space, SpaceX has launched a constellation of more than 1,500 satellites, Starlink, intended to bring an Internet connection to the four corners of the globe. This constellation has noticeably increased the circulation of objects in space. “We have seen an increase in the number of collision risks since the start of Starlink deployment,” Jonathan McDowell, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the United States, told AFP. China this year launched the main module of its Tiangong space station (the “heavenly palace”), the construction of which is due to be completed next year. Two crews of three astronauts have been there since June.