Astronaut Today interacted with Moriba Jah, an astrodynamicist with an expertise in qualifying, assessing and predicting the behaviour of objects in space. During this candid chat, he spoke about developments in this space, industries that are being benefited, challenges of astrodynamics and much more.
Dr. Moriba Jah who specializes in Kalman filtering, orbit determination, attitude determination, data fusion and much more, has recently been selected as the new Associate Editor under the “Astrodynamics and Space Debris” area of expertise of Advances in Space Research (ASR), which is the Official Journal of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), a Scientific Committee of the International Council for Science (ICSU).
His other specialties are space surveillance, inverse problems, algorithm development, data science, data analytics, space object behavioural science and space situational awareness.
Astronaut Today- What are the recent developments in astronomy/Space that have been the most revolutionary incidents in the last few decades according to you?
Dr. Moriba Jah- Recent collisions on-orbit generating many thousands of debris in single events and the fact that more companies are space actors has been revolutionary developments. The landscape has drastically changed from government-driven activity to commercially-driven activities.
AT- Would you like to talk about your transition from a NASA spacecraft navigator to an academician? Do you feel there is a need for more academicians in this space?
MJ- Well, I went from NASA to the Department of Defense (specifically the Air Force Research Laboratory) for a decade and then academia. I feel that by having been in government, I have a meaningful pulse on the salient problems and issues we face in space, and an academic environment lets me explore intellectually-curious topics of relevance with little constraints, which is a landscape I couldn’t have as a Civil Servant.
Yes, more academics should be a part of this work, but it’s not due to a lack of interest…it’s due to a lack of proper investment. If governments and industry team together and bring forth a meaningful level of funding to do the science that we critically need to solve these problems, you’d have a fierce and healthy competition amongst academics to do the work and you’d get the best ideas on the planet! Money is not everything but the only thing, in this case, preventing a large pool of the smartest people from addressing these issues.
AT- Could you give a few highlights of the ASTRIA program at the University of Texas?
MJ- ASTRIA seeks to be globally recognized as the first choice for innovative and disruptive solutions to space domain related critically important, multi-source information fusion, data science and analytics, and astronautical sciences and engineering challenges. Our goal is to deliver the best sciences and technologies to the community in a way that successfully transfers these to government and private industry, leading to measurable and positive impact for our stakeholders and partners.
ASTRIA continuously seeks to augment and deliver our scientific and engineering research capabilities through a broad network of government, private, academic and public partnerships.
One of the first areas of research will be to delve into Space Traffic and Debris Modeling, to quantify, assess, and predict the space object population and use this science to help inform sound space policy to support orbital safety and long-term sustainability of space activities.
Astria’s mission is to assemble and lead the world’s top multidisciplinary science and technology research and development and focus it to solve problems requiring rigorous and comprehensive capabilities. It envisions to imagine, identify, develop and deliver new astronautics capabilities and make expertise on astronautics available to a variety of stakeholders including all branches of government, private industry, academia, and international entities.
AT- Would you like to enlighten our readers keen on venturing into this space on how prepare themselves for a career in astronomy?
MJ- Well, my career is in Astrodynamics, the Science that studies the motion of objects in space. To prepare for that, you need a solid foundation in mathematics and physics. Look at the contributions in Celestial Mechanics made by Kepler, Lagrange, Hamilton, Gauss, Brahe, Galilei, Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein.
AT- What are the risks and challenges at the current scenario around space? How could they be dealt with?
MJ- The big problem is that we aren’t able to track everything and we can’t detect everything! We have no way to uniquely identify objects in space. Our motto in ASTRIA is, “if you want to know it, you must measure it; if you want to understand it, you must predict it!” We have trouble in both measuring and predicting…and thus in knowing and understanding. This is where our work is focused on… measuring and predicting the behaviour of objects in space!
AT- With more and more companies venturing into space, what are the perils of space traffic and how can that be overcome?
MJ- Lack of empirically-based codes of conduct and safety in space is a problem…congestion in space is not a problem. The problem is not knowing where everything is and will be. Air traffic is pretty dense. We have air traffic controllers and locations of planes are mostly known to meters. We need an equivalent level of knowledge for space traffic. We aren’t even close to that. But more and more people are hurrying to get things in space to make lots of money. They’re all assuming an unquantifiable level of risk.
AT- What are the common industries that get benefitted with exploiting Space?
MJ- Almost all of them… oil, energy, farming, disaster relief, communications, weather, navigation, medical, automobile, maritime, fishing, financial/banking, etc. are being benefitted from space.