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FirstFT: Elon Musk rejects claims his satellites are squeezing out rivals in space


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Elon Musk has hit back at criticism that his company’s Starlink satellites are hogging too much room in space, and has instead argued there could be room for “tens of billions” of spacecraft in orbits close to Earth.

His comments, in an interview with the Financial Times, came in response to a claim from Josef Aschbacher, head of the European Space Agency, that Musk was “making the rules” for the new commercial space economy.

China complained this month to the UN that two Starlink satellites had forced the Chinese space station to take “preventive collision avoidance control” measures in October and July to “ensure the safety and lives of in-orbit astronauts”.

But rejecting suggestions he was “squeezing out” future satellite competitors, Musk compared the number of satellites in low Earth orbit to what he said were 2bn cars and trucks on Earth.

“A couple of thousand satellites is nothing,” Musk said. “It’s like, hey, here’s a couple of thousand of cars on Earth — it’s nothing.”

SpaceX, Musk’s private space company, has already launched nearly 2,000 satellites for its Starlink broadband communications network and has plans for tens of thousands more.

Some experts challenged Musk’s claim that satellites in low Earth orbit could safely match the density of cars and trucks on Earth.

Spacecraft travelling at 17,000mph need far greater separation than cars to leave time to adjust their orbits if a collision seems likely, said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

1. Japan’s PM to visit Australia for security talks Fumio Kishida will meet his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison next week to discuss defence and security in the Indo-Pacific and China’s rising military ambitions in the region. The two leaders are expected to sign a landmark security treaty agreed by both countries in November.

2. HK pro-democracy news site Stand News closes Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy news outlet said it would close after national security police officers raided its headquarters, arresting seven people, including current and former senior executives, for conspiring “to publish seditious” material.

Editor of Stand News Patrick Lam is arrested by police officers in Hong Kong
Editor of Stand News Patrick Lam, centre, is arrested by police officers in Hong Kong © AP

Media groups to spend more than $100bn on new content The top eight US media groups plan to spend more than $100bn on new movies and TV shows next year in pursuit of a video streaming business that loses money for most of them. The planned investments come amid concerns that it will be harder to attract new customers in 2022 after the pandemic-fuelled growth in 2020 and 2021.

Coronavirus digest

  • The World Health Organization has warned of a “tsunami of cases” of Covid-19 around the world as some countries, including France and the US, reported record-breaking infection tallies.

  • Boris Johnson’s plea for “cautious” new year celebrations in England is being undermined by problems with the availability of lateral flow and PCR tests.

  • Long-haul air traffic remains subdued, with many big wide-bodied planes that fly intercontinental routes sitting idle.

  • China’s rise in coronavirus infections has resulted in production halts and shipment delays that could hamper the economy. (Nikkei Asia)

What else we’re reading

Graphics of the year — making sense of 2021 From Covid charts to technological explainers, we are living in an era that is increasingly captured by visual reporting. Graphics have a language as rich and expressive as the written word. Here are some of this year’s standouts selected by the FT’s data team.

What makes a job good? Sarah O’Connor, employment columnist at the Financial Times, recently asked her Twitter followers to tell her about jobs they loved and one common thread linked many of their stories.

The books to read in 2022 The FT’s books editors pick their titles to look for in the coming year from the worlds of fiction and non-fiction, poetry and business by established authors as well as some new names.

Most read Work & Careers articles of the year

The pandemic forced many to work from home while juggling the demands of family life, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed and under-appreciated. In February, our Work & Careers team asked FT subscribers to share their views on these enforced new working arrangements. More than 250 readers responded.

© Kenneth Andersson / Eye Candy

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