Moriba Jah is the former director of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s space situational awareness efforts. He was hired by the University of Arizona in January to stand up a space object behavioral sciences program — an interdisciplinary epicenter he likens to Hogwarts, the wizardry school of Harry Potter fame.

What does a space object behavioral scientist do?

We quantify, assess, and predict the behavior of all objects in space, man-made and natural.

Why does the space community need a better understanding of space object behavioral science?

Put simply, we don’t really have a firm grasp of the interaction between objects in space and their environment — for example, space weather, microgravity effects, etc. — or even the consequences of policy decisions. Space will never achieve the transparency we so desperately need without a rigorous and comprehensive understanding, assessment, and prediction of space object behaviors.

What problems can space object behavioral sciences solve in the next few years?

Turn on your favorite Discovery or National Geography program to see how people quantify, assess, and understand a population of anything. They first “tag” representative individuals in the population and then they “track” these individuals over time, space and frequency in the context of the environment.

We try to maintain a catalog without any regard to the fact that not all objects in space behave the same way and that there are classes and species of objects that likely require their own specific and optimal methods of observation and tracking. We don’t do a great job of “tag and track” for the detectable space object population.

What do you gain from tagging and tracking more objects?

We will discover how the whole population behaves in a holistic sense. We will know what things are hazardous and to whom and what. We will see that the population is comprised of various species and understand how those species were created and what they can become, which should better inform the science of debris mitigation or even lead to better policy.

Is this pure R&D or will you be training the space traffic managers of the future?

The space object behavioral sciences “school” will be something like Hogwarts where students will belong to one of five “houses”: space environment; astrodynamics; information systems; data science and analytics; or space policy, law and culture so that those graduating from this “school” have all taken common courses relating to the competencies in the other “houses.” I’d make it a point to see these graduates working for a think tank, State Department, DoD, NASA, FAA, NOAA, SpaceX, MIT Lincoln Lab, etc. I want the future head of Air Force Space Command to have come through our ranks, not to mention future congressional staffers, space entrepreneurs and space lawyers.