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How do we track objects orbiting the Earth and why does it matter?

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Moriba Jah

Moriba Jah

The US Department of Defense tracks approximately 26,000 resident space objects ranging from the size of a softball to a school bus. Of these, roughly 2,000 are actively controlled and all else are effectively space garbage. As such, they do not transmit their identities, making them more difficult to track. Tracking is understood as both detecting and object and positively identifying it. Most of these objects are measured as point detection (i.e. non-resolved). Astrodynamics is the science that studies motion of resident space objects. There are four field effects driving RSO motion: gravitational, radiative, particulates, and geomagnetic. Of these, only the gravitational field effects are independent of the RSO’s physical characteristics. The question then is, how do we positively identify all of the RSOs in the population and thus improve our ability to predict their behavior to satisfy a growing need for space safety, security, and sustainability? Moreover, how do we do this in the presence of uncertainty driven by both randomness and ignorance?

Moriba Jah will describe current state of practice, compare this to the state of the art, and identify scientific and engineering gaps that are in need of being satisfied. He will also provide a summary of his research program at UT Austin and how this focus area fits into a larger vision of rigorous and comprehensive space situational awareness and space traffic management.

Moriba Jah  is the director for Computational Astronautical Sciences and Technologies (CAST), a group within the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES) at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Jah came to UT Austin by way of the Air Force Research Laboratory and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory prior to that, where he was a Spacecraft Navigator on several Mars missions.

Dr. Jah will also give a talk on “Advanced Methods in Resident Space Object Characterization and Uncertainty Quantification” on May 3, 2019 in 35-225  from 11 am–12 pm.

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