The universe may seem endless, but Earth’s orbital real estate is rapidly filling up with junk.
The debris that orbits Earth is made up of artifacts that no longer serve their purpose, and ranges from metal shards to defunct spaceships to abandoned rocket stages.
This space junk can compromise spacecraft and damage satellites that are vital to everything from communications to GPS, air traffic control, surveillance, and national security.
Despite the large and growing problem of space debris, public perception of it has not been well studied. So researchers at the University of Central Florida are joining a new NASA-funded project to find out what people know about the topic and find ways to engage them.
Researchers say the findings will be used to help engage the public, who can influence policy makers to address this issue.
“The public needs to understand this issue because ultimately NASA and other government agencies in multiple countries will have to work together to address it. We need informed voters,” says a co-investigator of the project. Phil Metzger ’00MS’05PhDplanetary scientist at UCF’s Florida Space Institute.
Space debris could also affect the prospects for space travel, said Sergio Alvarez, an assistant professor at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management and a co-investigator on the project.
“Earth orbital economic activity is threatened by a large amount of man-made debris orbiting the Earth and moving at very high speeds, essentially destroying satellites, stations, ships, or other infrastructure in Earth orbit. It would be a deadly projectile that could damage or destroy a Say. “Therefore, orbital debris poses an existential threat to the emerging industry of space travel.”
Alvarez will help explore public willingness to pay to solve this problem.
Addressing the problem of orbital debris, researchers say, means satellite-based services such as the Internet and streaming TV will cost more because of pre- or post-launch costs to cover the removal of satellites. He said it can be expensive.
The year-long project will consist of interviews, national representative surveys, and testing of various messages related to framing space debris as a problem. NASA awarded her $100,000 for this project. This is his one of three projects NASA recently funded to study orbital debris and space sustainability.
“Orbital debris is one of the great challenges of our time,” said Bhavya Lal, deputy director of the Office of Technology, Policy and Strategy (OTPS) at NASA headquarters in Washington, in a recent press release. increase. “Maintaining our space-based capabilities is critical to our economy, national security, and our national science and technology enterprise.”
The project will be led by Patrice Cole, Assistant Professor of Environmental Communication at the College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, State University of New York.
“Little is known about public perceptions, understandings and attitudes towards space debris,” says Cole. “Knowing the key vocabulary on this issue, how to frame it, and what people already know will help us better communicate risk. We want to fill some.”
Metzger holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Auburn University and an MS and PhD in Physics from UCF. Before he joined UCF in 2014, he worked at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for nearly 30 years.
Alvarez joined UCF in 2018 with a PhD in Food Resource Economics from the University of Florida. He is a member of UCF’s Center for Integrated Coastal Studies and Faculty Research Cluster on Sustainable Coastal Systems. From 2013 to 2018, Alvarez served as chief economist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.