Cockrell School of Engineering hosts annual space traffic conference

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Paul Liias, Expert in Space Technologies and Policy at Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications for Estonia, speaks at the 6th Annual Space Traffic Management Conference at the James J. And Miriam B. Mulva Conference Center on February 19, 2020.

Photo Credit: Haley Bell | Daily Texan Staff

Experts from around the world gathered to promote safe access and operations in outer space at the Cockrell School of Engineering on Wednesday. 

The Cockrell School of Engineering and the Strauss Center’s Space Security and Safety program partnered with the International Academy of Astronautics to host the 6th Annual Space Traffic Management Conference, which ends Thursday afternoon. This is the second year the Space Traffic Management Conference has been held at UT. 

“The idea is to bring together a variety of perspectives on the current state of space traffic management and what concerns to look at for future iterations of space traffic management,” said Victoria Samson, the Washington office director of the Secure World Foundation. “How do you make sure space is usable for all, and how do you bring in various perspectives on this issue?”

Space traffic management and the environmental effects of an increasing amount of technology in space were discussed at the event.

Moriba Jah, co-chair of the event and aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics associate professor at UT, said the relationship between space traffic and the environment is important.

“Right now, we keep track of about 20,000 objects in space,” Jah said. “Most of that is junk and debris. Basically, what we’ve done to our oceans with plastics, we’re doing to space. So, it’s very critical that as a global community we talk about norms of behavior that would help the space ecosystem be sustainable for future generations.”

Jean-Michel Contant, secretary general of the International Academy of Astronautics, called for further action to be taken in ridding the atmosphere of old space debris.

“We have to find a way to modify the rules,” Contant said. “There are already existing rules for space debris organized by the United Nations, like a 25-year maximum (orbit), but that is not enough. We need rules. We have only one Earth. This is a real problem we need to investigate more clearly.”

The conference not only focused on the environmental effects of space traffic, it also featured a variety of panels and sessions devoted to topics such as space security, space safety and space sustainability.

“Space traffic management is becoming a very important thing,” conference attendee Jose Miguel Lorenzo said. “Last week there were two hearings, one in the Congress and one in the Senate, about this. It is a real problem that we are trying to solve.”