Amber Yang is on a mission to clean up space trash

Human behavior doesn’t only lead to pollution on the planet. Now, there’s trash in space too.

Amber Yang is the 22-year-old founder of Seer Tracking, an organization that monitors the movement of space debris orbiting Earth. The Stanford University student grew up in Orlando, Fla. where she’d visit the Kennedy Space Center every week. 

“Since the beginning of the space program, people have been putting things into space without any consideration about what are the potential negative impacts,” Yang told In The Know. 

All of the debris from the start of human space exploration is still up there. Debris is any manmade matter that’s left in space, ranging from small pieces of equipment to entire satellites. 

Just this week a Long March 5B booster from China captured the world’s attention when 23 tons of its uncontrolled space debris splashed down into the Indian Ocean.

“There are already 1 million pieces of space debris in lower orbit,” she explained. “If we don’t start to do something about this soon, it’s only going to multiply. We’re already on a polluted planet. In our efforts to travel further, we’re being trapped by another layer of pollution that we’ve created.” 

These pieces of debris travel at 17,500 miles per hour, but 900,000 of them are so small, at one to 10 centimeters, they can’t be tracked. In the last two decades, space debris has begun to collide with each other. 

“When these two satellites were colliding, they were producing so many fragmented parts that would then potentially cause collisions with other objects,” Yang stated. 

Seer Tracking uses artificial intelligence to monitor and predict the orbits of space debris. Yang developed the software while she was in high school. 

“We take specific satellites that are requested from the companies that we work for and provide a prediction of where we think that satellite will be, all the way up to a month from the current date. We use that to provide collision predictions,” she said. 

Yang hopes that the evidence she has found using data and tech will convince leaders that space debris is an important issue. If Earth is covered in a layer of pollution, it could become impossible to actually leave the planet and explore. 

“My biggest dream is being a part of the conversation of what space will look like,” Yang said. “I think that I’m bringing in a new perspective and a new voice that is really in tune with a young movement of protecting our planet, holding people accountable and I think that’s what really is most important to me.” 

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