Space Enabled Affiliate Moriba Jah was named a MacArthur Fellow for the class of 2022. Professor Jah is also serving an MIT Martin Luther King Visiting Professor for 2022-2023 and will be hosted by Prof Danielle Wood and Prof Richard Linares. Here are highlights from the MacArthur Foundation's announcement.
Moriba Jah is an astrodynamicist laying the foundation for a safe, prosperous, and sustainable near-Earth space environment. Jah draws on his expertise in astrodynamics and statistical orbit determination to create transparent and collaborative solutions for improving oversight of Earth’s orbital spheres. Space-based infrastructure, such as satellites, underlies many aspects of our daily lives, including transportation networks, financial exchange, energy and supply distribution, and global communications. There are now almost 30,0000 human-made objects orbiting Earth. These include active and inactive satellites, rocket bodies, and other debris. Information about the number, nature, and location of these objects—known as space situational awareness—is currently fragmented across nations and organizations. As the number of space objects continues to grow, space traffic management (that is, preventing collisions and charting clear paths for new launches) is increasingly difficult.
Jah and co-authors have proposed novel statistical strategies for determining more precise admissible regions (the possible orbits an object can take). For most space objects, only small slices of their flight paths can be recorded as they pass over an observing station such as a telescope. Jah’s calculation method accounts more fully for the uncertainty inherent in orbital predictions based on such small amounts of data. Compared with other methods, it provides scientists with a more complete picture of where objects may be in danger of collision. He and colleagues have also developed a system for aggregating various independent data sources into a complete catalog of space objects. ASTRIAGraph and Wayfinder, a new version designed for use by the public, are online visualization tools, freely available to all, that integrate information from governments, industry, and other researchers.
Jah’s work also extends to policy guidance and public education about how to improve collaboration across space-faring nations and entities. In op-eds, podcasts, and government testimonies, he is a persuasive advocate for “space environmentalism,” a framework for treating Earth’s orbit as a finite natural resource. Like other natural resources, it should be governed by norms of behavior, transparent information sharing, and broad regulations in the service of sustainability and equitable international access.
The MacArthur Fellows Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. In keeping with this purpose, the Foundation awards fellowships directly to individuals rather than through institutions. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, to change fields or alter the direction of their careers.