Human behavior not only pollutes the environment. There is now trash in space as well.
Amber Yang, 22, is the founder of Seer Tracking, an organization that tracks the movement of space debris in Earth’s orbit. The Stanford University student grew up in Orlando, Fla., and spent every week at the Kennedy Space Center.
“Since the beginning of the space program, people have been putting things into space with no regard for what the potential negative impacts are,” Yang explained to In The Know.
All of the debris from the early days of human space exploration can still be found there. Debris is defined as any man-made matter that has been left in space, ranging from small pieces of equipment to entire satellites.
Just this week, a Chinese Long March 5B booster drew worldwide attention when 23 tons of uncontrolled space debris fell into the Indian Ocean.
“There are already one million pieces of space debris in lower orbit,” she said. “If we don’t do something about this soon, it will only get worse. We already live on a polluted planet. We are being trapped by another layer of pollution that we have created in our efforts to travel further.”
These debris pieces travel at 17,500 miles per hour, but 900,000 of them are so small, measuring one to ten centimetres, that they cannot be tracked. Space debris has begun to collide with one another in the last two decades.
“When these two satellites collided, they produced so many fragmented parts that could potentially collide with other objects,” Yang explained.
Artificial intelligence is used by Seer Tracking to monitor and predict the orbits of space debris. Yang created the software while still in high school.
“We take specific satellites requested by the companies for which we work and provide a prediction of where we believe that satellite will be up to a month from the current date. “We use that to predict collisions,” she explained.
Yang hopes that the evidence she has uncovered using data and technology will persuade leaders that space debris is a serious problem. If Earth becomes engulfed in a layer of pollution, it may become impossible to leave the planet and explore.
“My greatest dream is to be a part of the discussion about what space will look like,” Yang said. “I believe I am bringing a new perspective and a new voice that is really in tune with a young movement of protecting our planet and holding people accountable, and I believe that is what is most important to me.”