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Steve Wozniak's stealthy space startup Privateer hires chief scientific adviser

An artist's concept depicting the near-Earth orbital debris field, based on real data from the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office.
An artist's concept depicting the near-Earth orbital debris field, based on real data from the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office. (Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's new space company is really starting to take shape.

Hawaii-based Privateer remains in stealth mode a month after Wozniak and co-founder Alex Fielding announced its existence, but we know the company aims to tackle humanity's growing problem with space junk, which threatens to hinder our exploration of the final frontier. And Privateer will focus, at least initially, on improving our knowledge of the teeming orbital population.

"We really got started with the goal of building … the Google Maps of space," Fielding told TechCrunch recently.

Related: 7 wild ways to destroy orbital debris

The company has just hired one of the people who will lead this ambitious effort, tapping aerodynamicist and "space environmentalist" Moriba Jah as its chief scientific adviser.

"We are so proud to have a scientist and human of Moriba's caliber joining the Privateer team. His knowledge of this issue is only exceeded by his passion for building solutions to address it," Wozniak said in an emailed statement.

"Some might say that Privateer benefits from a connection with my name, whereas I see it as a feather in my cap to be connected to this great group and company," Wozniak said.

Jah is an associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin. He's an expert on space junk and one of the leading voices urging humanity to do something about it. 

"My work has been heavily involved in science and technology research focused on space safety, security and sustainability," Jah said in the same statement. "I answer an inner clarion call to action in reminding humanity of its intergenerational contract of stewardship and custodianship, honoring and recognizing the interconnectedness amongst all things, and that action is best when born from compassion."

He said he's long been looking for "kindred spirits" willing to be as bold as the 14th-century Medici family of Florence, whose patronage helped catalyze the Renaissance.

"At Privateer, we are Medici-bold, creating knowledge and solutions with a focus on decision intelligence at the speed of relevance," Jah said. "By embracing complexity, we take the state of the possible and transform it into the state of practice, recruiting the spirit of stewardship and sustainability to repair our broken relationship with our environment."

Privateer's boldness is already apparent. The company plans to launch its first satellite, a tiny cubesat bristling with 42 sensors, in February and its second two months later, according to TechCrunch.

Jah previously served as a spacecraft navigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. While there, he worked on a number of Red Planet projects, including the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, which sent Spirit and Opportunity to the fourth rock from the sun.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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Mike Wall

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.