We’re tackling the topic of space junk today. We’re very fortunate to have Dr. Moriba Jah, one of the world’s foremost authorities on this topic, joining us this week to help tackle the issue. Moriba is an astrodynamicist, space environmentalist, and associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at UT Austin (obligatory ‘hook em’ from Ryan).
On today’s episode of the Pathfinder podcast, we’re tackling the topic of space junk. We’re very fortunate to have Dr. Moriba Jah, one of the world’s foremost authorities on this topic, joining us this week.
Moriba is an astrodynamicist, space environmentalist, and associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at UT Austin (obligatory ‘hook em’ from Ryan). Moriba is also the chief scientist and cofounder of Privateer, with Alex Fielding and Steve “Woz” Wozniak. Privateer, which stayed highly secretive until relatively recently, bills itself as “a data and intelligence platform empowering the future of space sustainability.”
Today’s Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems (www.spideroak-ms.com), an industry leader in cybersecurity.
In the simplest of terms, Moriba specializes in studying and predicting the motion of objects in space. It’s a hot topic at the moment, given recent uncontrolled spacecraft reentries, the growing pile of junk in LEO, and the rising importance of space domain awareness (SDA) and space traffic management (STM).
Moriba walks us through his framework for thinking about the orbital commons. Among other things, we discuss…
- The perception of risk and uncertainty
- The criticality of accurate measurements
- How, when, and where national governments are responsible and liable for debris build-up and the downstream consequences
- The geopolitical calculus of maintaining the orbital commons, and the challenges of multilateral coordination
- Moriba’s efforts to “recruit empathy” for space environmentalism and reach a wide swath of the general public
- A tragedy of the orbital commons…but also, reasons to be optimistic
In the back half of the episode, we focus on Privateer and work through the following questions:
- Where does the startup get its data and how could the wisdom of crowds come into play?
- What does the tech stack look like?
- How is Privateer thinking about its own orbital assets and hosted payloads? Where will it buy vs. build?
- What types of organizations will be the power users of Privateer’s platform and the Wayfinder product, if the startup succeeds in its goal?
Come for Moriba’s insightful takes on the serious matters at hand; stay for the dog cameo, keto detour, and wearable technology talk.
0:00 – Intro
3:09 – Moriba’s résumé … from hook ‘em to science committees to disarmament and advising the Scottish government
8:06 – Space may be an abundant and limitless expanse, but from a resource consumption POV, especially in LEO, it is quite finite
9:44 – How do you feel about the influx of attention to orbital debris and LEO congestion in recent years?
11:42 – Are there parallels, theoretically speaking, between the Kessler Syndrome and planetary feedback loops that could be induced by runaway climate change?
14:36 – Risk assessment, forecasting, pattern-matching, structured vs. unstructured data, building models, and “epistemic uncertainty” … and @ 18:00, “You can’t know something better than its inherent randomness”
19:49 – Overseeing our orbital commons is the quintessential international relations problem. With regards to taking ownership and cleaning up the mess, does the buck stop with national governments?
24:59 – Is there a new co-host of Pathfinder??? 🐶🐶🐶
26:08 – What does reaching our carrying capacity of LEO look like? How many objects can be up there at once? Is it possible to even answer these questions?
28:28 – The dangers of mucking up key orbits
30:52 – Privateer intro. Privateer was cofounded by the three amigos: Moriba, entrepreneur and Privateer CEO Alex Fielding, and Apple cofounder Steve “Woz” Wozniak
33:45 – You have a near-real-time, open-access feed of objects around Earth on your website. Where are you pulling this data from? As it relates to your Wayfinder product, what’s unique about Privateer’s tech stack? In what ways is this an aggregation play? Are you making this data interoperable?
39:24 – Operationalizing and productizing Moriba’s life work through Privateer’s platform
40:47 – Privateer will operate its own on-orbit assets
46:42 – You’d have all the reasons in the world to be a jaded realist. Why aren’t you one? How do you stay optimistic?
50:20 – If you weren’t working in astrodynamics and aerospace, what would you be doing? And finally…favorite taco spot(s) in Austin?