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24 July 2019

In his article, “50 Years After Apollo 11, Don’t Let Space Become a Landfill for Equipment and Satellites,” Strauss Distinguished Scholar and Program Lead of the Space Security and Safety program, Moriba Jah argues that in the last fifty years since Apollo 11 we have developed enough perspective to realize the damage that could be done if space traffic was left unchecked. Professor Jah argues that the space domain is contested (a) geopolitically (b) economically (c) environmentally with significant concerns for each.

He begins the article by showing the damage that has already been done as evidenced by the world’s first crowdsourced space traffic monitoring system, ASTRIAGraph. Humans have already started to leave objects on the moon and on Mars. There are also 26,000 resident space objects currently being tracked, and only 2,000 of those are in use. Within the next five years, U.S. companies alone are planning to send 15,000 satellites into space.

Jah argues that although it is difficult to predict the motion of all of the objects, there are solutions available to make this easier. A good first step was taken by the UN Committee on Peaceful Users of Outer Space. It adopted 21 guidelines for countries to operate in sustainable ways. These include making satellites easily and independently tracked as well as preemptively disclosing when and where satellites will be displaced. These directives are not legally binding.

In order to create laws, Jah argues that NASA must be more involved. It should carry out President Trump’s national space policy directive to create a NASA Space Situational Awareness Institute with the purpose of helping us transition necessary sciences and technologies to help develop a civil Space Traffic Management System. Watch Jah’s TED Talk for context.

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