UT professor talks interstellar competition, satellite traffic at Research + Pizza event

Matthew Posey

Tens of thousands of objects, ranging from the size of a phone to a space station, are floating around Earth with little to no regulation, an aerospace engineering associate professor said during an on-campus talk Thursday.

Moriba Jah presented his research on space traffic in the Perry-Castañeda Library at a Research+Pizza event, which brings students and professors together for discussion and lunch. He spoke on why and how creating international space traffic laws are necessary to creating a sustainable future for space travel and for launching satellites into Earth’s orbit. 

The presentation focused on three issues related to space traffic: international competition in space, commercial competition in space and lack of environmental protection in space. Jah also showed the satellite tracking program he created at UT and held a Q&A session after the presentation.

“Even though space can be said as infinite, near-Earth space is finite,” Jah said. “We don’t have any traffic rules, and there’s no EPA for space.”

Jah said he is a former NASA employee and used to work for the U.S. Air Force. He said coming to UT has given him more freedom in his research.

“I’ve been able to reach out to people across campus and find people interested to contribute,” Jah said.

Sustainability studies freshman Angela Maione first heard Jah speak at the lecture series on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

“He was the person I was the most interested in,” Maione said. “I ended up coming here because I wanted to get more information on the tragedy of the commons that we’re facing in terms of space travel and launching satellites.”

Jah said he wants to raise awareness and see who would be interested in getting involved with the research program.


“You’re the generation of the future to help make all this stuff happen,” Jah said to the audience.

Aerospace engineering freshman Keri Christian said sustainability is a huge part of her life and she would love to incorporate it into her career. She was most interested in how American culture affects the way NASA operates.

“You don’t think about how (Americans) only launch our stuff Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays because of the cultural aspects of the weekend,” Christian said. “It was really interesting because you think, ‘Oh, it’s NASA. It’s so high-tech science logic,’ and it’s like, no, there’s a cultural aspect of how we do things.”