Moriba Jah, UT Austin TX engineering professor

Space debris expert and Texas Engineer Moriba Jah has earned the rare honor of being elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s National Academy. RSE elected 91 total fellows for 2023, but only six from outside the United Kingdom.

Jah, an associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at The University of Texas at Austin, was chosen as a corresponding fellow, a designation reserved for luminaries from outside the U.K. The fellowship covers the full range of physical and life sciences, arts, humanities, social sciences, education, professions, industry, business and public life.

“It is beyond words for me to express the honor of being selected into Scotland’s national academy of science as one of only six corresponding fellows,” Jah said. “I am extremely excited at the opportunity to work as a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh to make knowledge useful, especially regarding my life’s work in astrodynamics, space environmentalism and sustainability.”

The RSE’s current fellowship comprises 1,800 people recognized as some of the greatest thinkers, researchers and practitioners in their fields working in or with organizations in Scotland today. Jah is an internationally cited expert in space debris and his ties to Scotland include membership in GlobalScot, Scotland’s international business network and the Scotland International Space Advisory Council.

Fellows are chosen through a rigorous assessment of their achievements, professional standing and societal contribution. All fellowship candidates must be nominated by an existing fellow and supported by two others. Nominees are then put to a five-stage selection process.

“It is a great privilege to welcome our new Fellows – they represent outstanding commitment and achievement at the highest level across a diverse range of sectors,” said professor Sir John Ball, president of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. “From scientific advancement that changes lives to leading business innovation recognized across the world, the RSE welcomes the best minds to harness their unique insight and make knowledge useful for the greater good.”

The RSE and its fellows create a unique impact by:

  • Inspiring and supporting talent through a wide-ranging program of research grants and awards;
  • Engaging the public across Scotland on key contemporary issues through its outreach programs and a wide-ranging programme of public events;
  • Providing impartial advice and expertise to inform policy and practice through in-depth examination of major issues and providing expert comment on topical matters;
  • Promoting Scotland’s interests overseas through building relationships with sister academies across the world and facilitating research collaborations;

Jah received the MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as the “genius grant” last year. He has developed tools for more precisely determining the locations and possible orbital paths of the active and inactive satellites, rocket bodies and other debris in space. This knowledge gives scientists a better picture of where objects are related to each other and when a collision could occur.

In tracking these objects, Jah and his colleagues have built complete catalogs of space objects in orbit. These tools — ASTRIAGraph and Wayfinder, a new version designed specifically for use by the general public — are online visualization tools, freely available to all, that integrate information from governments, industry and researchers.

Jah is an outspoken advocate for space environmentalism, a framework for treating Earth’s orbit as a finite natural resource that needs to be preserved and protected. Jah has proposed policies to create a circular space economy, preventing pollution in the form of single-use satellites and incentivizing companies to reuse satellites rather than abandon them.

In addition to his research, Jah is a co-founder and chief scientist at Privateer. His fellow co-founders in the private space venture are tech entrepreneur Alex Fieldingand Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. Together they focus on similar areas to Jah’s research, collecting data on objects in orbit to allow space operators to move safely and effectively.