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Dr. Jah Discusses Space Junk With Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chuck Nice

Dr. Moriba Jah, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at UT and Director of the Strauss Center’s Space Security and Safety Program, was recently interviewed by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chuck Nice on their podcast, Startalk. Dr. Tyson began the conversation by highlighting Dr. Jah’s collaboration with Moody College of Communication: Eyes on the Sky, an immersive, mixed reality experience which brings space environmentalism education alive. Dr. Tyson then asked Dr. Jah to discuss a recent piece he published about his own background and how it led him to become a space environmentalist.

Jah then turned to a discussion of orbital debris, providing a brief overview of the anthropogenic space object population and its associated hazards. Dr. Jah then fielded an audience question on the recent uncontrolled reentry of a Chinese rocket. He noted that uncontrolled reentries of this nature could constitute “harmful interference” as defined by article IX of the Outer Space Treaty, thereby bringing issues of liability into the fore. He also noted, however, that varying interpretations of “harmful interference” make it difficult to address legal precedents of this variety. Dr. Jah also discussed various possible means of managing the population of orbital debris, including avoiding the creation of a landfill of sorts at a Lagrange Point—a solution which he deemed unsustainable.

Turning to the role of private actors—like SpaceX—in space operations, Dr. Jah also discussed the issues of coordination among active space objects, which has been complicated by the presence of so-called “mega constellations.” Dr. Jah and the panelists also dove into the issue of light pollution from anthropogenic space objects, noting that the challenges it creates for astronomers will require creative technical solutions. In response to a question about the monetization of orbital cleanup, Dr. Jah noted a few primary first steps, including the rollout of sustainability metrics such as an orbital “carrying” capacity and a space traffic footprint. In their discussion of orbital debris removal technologies, Dr. Jah also highlighted the issue of dual-use technologies in space which present both opportunities and possible threats. Listen to the full conversation here.

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