With each new satellite that reaches orbit, the space above our heads gets a little more congested. There are about 3,000 active satellites in use today, but that number is changing quickly, especially as companies like Starlink send up 60 small satellites in a single launch. Add the 20,000 or so bits of orbital debris that authorities are actively tracking, and the image of a limitless expanse of space above the Earth starts to feel a little different.
Moriba Jah is a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin who’s on a mission to make the stakes of orbital congestion abundantly clear. He built a visualizer called AstriaGraph that displays the positions of all actively-tracked objects in the sky. He also designed a real-time graph that shows just how close objects get to one another as they whip around the planet, sometimes 15 times faster than a bullet.
The Big Bad in all of these calculations is a collision: two objects slamming into each other at terrific speeds, creating numerous bits of new debris. Any one of those new pieces of junk could go on to threaten other operational hardware. Whether such collisions could amplify exponentially and wipe out entire orbits — the so-called “Kessler syndrome” — is up for debate. Jah, for one, isn’t suggesting that an orbital apocalypse is around the corner. But some kind of satellite-industry reckoning may need to be.
The Verge spoke with Jah about his projects and efforts. Check out the video above to see AstriaGraph and more in action.
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