Space Object Behavioral Sciences (SOBS)

What is space object behavioral sciences (SOBS)?

SOBS, which stands for “space object behavioral sciences,” is the study of objects in space. It is also known as “space situational awareness.” Space object behavioral scientists observe the movement of both natural objects—like asteroids and comets—and manmade objects—like satellites and rocket debris.

SOBS is an increasingly important area of study within the space sciences, because military, civil, and commercial systems have become heavily reliant on satellites for day-to-day operations.


Satellite use in daily life for GPS maps and facetime being used on mobile devices
Satellite use in daily life for GPS maps and facetime being used on mobile devices

Take, for example, GPS navigation. GPS technology was developed by the United States Department of Defense in the late 1990s and, today, it is freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver. Millions of smartphone users rely on apps like Google Maps to find their way from point A to point B, without realizing that it is powered remotely, by satellites in space.

But these satellites, without which GPS navigation would fail, are vulnerable to destruction. Along with natural objects like asteroids and comets, there are some 500,000 pieces of space junk putting satellites and other valuable technology at risk.

What is space junk?

Space junk is all the defunct material we’ve sent to space. Used up rockets, old satellites, failed spacecrafts—they’re all space junk.

Space junk, sometimes called “orbital debris,” orbits the Earth at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour and while roughly 21,000 of these pieces of space junk are larger than a softball, even a fleck of paint from an old rocket can do serious damage when it hits something moving that fast.

The mission of space object behavior scientists is ultimately to avoid a devastating collision between space junk and satellites, spacecrafts, and people. SOB scientists are creating a field dedicated to monitoring and controlling traffic in space, or space traffic management.  

Moriba Jah leads these efforts at the University of Arizona.

Who is Moriba Jah?

Moriba Jah received his doctoral degree in aerospace engineering sciences from the University of Colorado in 2005. He later became a spacecraft navigator for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, where he charted courses for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Odyssey, and others. In 2007, he joined the Air Force Research Laboratory to lead research programs in space object behavioral sciences. Then, he moved to Hawaii to direct the Air Force’s Advanced Sciences and Technology Research Institute for Astronautics. In 2014, Jah began leading the space situational awareness program at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Now, Jah is the director of the UA’s space object behavioral sciences initiative.

SOBS Mission:


Satellites orbiting around the earth for GPS use
Satellites orbiting around the earth for GPS use

To assemble and lead the world’s top multi-disciplinary science and technology research and development talent and focus it to solve problems requiring rigorous and comprehensive capabilities in assessing, quantifying, and predicting the behavior of objects in space, both man-made and natural.

SOBS Vision:

To imagine, identify, develop and deliver new space object behavior capabilities; make expertise on space object behavior available to a variety of stakeholders including all branches of government, private industry, academia, and international entities; and help guarantee the University of Arizona’s leadership in the area through education, excellence, innovation and practicality in space object behavioral sciences and related fields.

SOBS Objectives:

  • Create a shared scientific and technological research infrastructure among the member UA colleges and departments as well as partner institutions for the purpose of enabling collaborative education, research, and technology transfer
  • Strengthen UA ties with partner universities, industry, and stakeholders
  • Establish new and strengthen existing ties among partner universities and industry
  • Leverage research opportunities within and outside UA
  • Consolidate UA academic research programs and leverage those provided by other entities
  • Open doors to UA’s varied research activities and facilities
  • Leverage UA resources to benefit the partner and stakeholder research base
  • Enhance educational opportunities for the SOBS members and UA faculty, students, and staff

Principal Research Areas:

As part of Research, Discovery & Innovation at the University of Arizona, SOBS concentrates on Space Object behavior science and technology development, growth, education, and technology transfer.

In this context, we focus on the following major areas (in no particular order of importance):

  • Space laws, policies, regulations, guidelines, and recommendations as inputs into space object behavior. This includes country-specific doctrine and culture as influencing elements of space object behavior
  • Space environment/weather effects and impacts on space object operations and behavior
  • Astrodynamics with an emphasis on non-gravitational forces and torques
  • Big Data Science and Analytics as relevant to quantifying, assessing, and predicting space object behavior
  • Decision Support Systems, Space Situational Awareness, Information Visualization, and Course of Action (CoA) development
  • Space-relevant/specific Information Systems design, development, management, and utilization

Technologies developed support collection, processing, storage, fusion, and dissemination of both real-time and stored space object behavior-based quantities. Additional research areas and interests may be identified and added over the the life of this initiative.

SOBS concentrates on collaborations between its members and the researchers of the global community.

We're looking for new ideas for research and education partnership activities on a continuing basis and we'd like to know what you are doing in these and related areas!

Learn more

Space Object Behavioral Sciences (SOBS)

Contact SOBS

Moriba K. Jah, Ph.D.
Curriculum vitae (PDF)
Director, Space Object Behavioral Sciences
Office for Research and Discovery
Associate Research Scientist and Professor of Engineering
College of Engineering
The University of Arizona
Office: Marshall Building 533
Phone: 520.621.2040
Cell: 808.269.4237