Why the risk of orbital collisions is skyrocketing


With each new satellite reaching orbit, the space above our head becomes slightly more congested. Today about 3,000 active satellites are in use, but this number is changing rapidly, especially as companies such as Starlink send 60 smaller satellites in a single launch. Add 20,000 or so orbital debris, which officials are actively tracking, and the image of an infinite expanse of space above the Earth begins to feel a little different.

Moriba Zeh is a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin who is on a mission to make the orbital crowd bets abundantly clear. He created a visualizer called the Astriagraph which displays the position of all actively tracked objects in the sky. He also designed a real-time graph that showed how to simply get close to each other while moving around the planet, sometimes 15 times faster than a bullet.

In all these calculations, the Big Bad is a collision: two motions collide into each other at terrifying speeds, creating many pieces of new debris. Any of those new pieces of junk could endanger other operational hardware. Whether such collisions can escalate quickly and wipe out entire classes – the so-called “Kessler syndrome” – is up for debate. JAH, for one, is not suggesting that an orbital apocalypse is around the corner. But some types of satellite-industry calculations may be required.

The ledge Talked with Jah about his projects and efforts. Watch the video above to see the Astriograph and more action.

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