Space-Based Solutions to Virginia’s Roadway Problems Real-Time Weather and Traffic Data Integration; The Ethics of Orbital Debris Generation

Freeman, Rikia, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Goyne, Chris, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Rogers, Hannah, Department of Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The technical project was given the problem of developing a solution approach to collecting real-time weather data and delivering it to users to improve roadway safety and efficiency. The solution was constrained to being a remote sensing solution in the form of a spacecraft. Over the course of the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, the feasibility of the Commuter Live Aggregated Yield Traffic Observation Network (CLAYTON) project was established. CLAYTON is a scalable constellation of spacecraft, in the form of 6U cubesats, that will detect ice and snow conditions on roadways and deliver the data in a nearly real-time fashion to roadway managers, roadway users, and emergency services personnel. The project features two phases. In phase I, one cubesat is prototyped to monitor the intersection of I-95 and I-495 in Springfield,VA as a proof of concept. Upon success, the full constellation of twenty-four satellites will be deployed to monitor all of Virginia.

The Science, Technology, and Society research paper applies classical ethical theories to understand the ethical responsibilities of an engineer when it comes to contributing to orbital debris. The orbital space around Earth is a finite natural resource that is becoming increasingly cluttered due to inevitable collisions among existing debris and the continual addition of debris. Without sufficient action, humankind risks the loss of freedom to operate in space. Utilitarianism, Deontology, Rights Ethics, and Virtue Ethics were used to carry out the analysis. It was determined that no one action by an engineer would be considered ethical in all the selected ethical perspectives. However, a majority of the ethical systems shared the common theme that it would be unethical to ignore the impending orbital debris crisis.

The relationship between the technical project and the STS research paper is that the STS research paper addresses a concern I held about the constrained solution approach. The literature review that preceded the design of CLAYTON offered non-space based remote sensing solutions such as the deployment of drones that would satisfy the objectives of CLAYTON. Being environmentally conscious and having always extended these values to space, I was dissatisfied with being constrained to a spacecraft when there were other valid solutions. Thus, I decided to explore the ethics of the situation I found myself in. In the end, the technical project was influenced to have a recommendation for the next class that takes up the project to develop a de-orbit plan for the constellation.

Being on the program management team for the technical project as the Chief Financial Officer, I learned more strategies on how to effectively lead, how the Space Mission Engineering process unfolds, and was able to observe the different teams and roles that make a space mission possible. This gave me insight as to what specific role I might wish to pursue as I enter the space industry. The STS research paper demonstrated how important STS conversations are in ensuring that a technological project’s consequences are close to the designer’s intended outcomes.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
cubesat, traffic, ethics, orbital debris

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering
Technical Advisor: Christopher Goyne
STS Advisor: Hannah Rogers
Technical Team Members: Arianna Asquini, Isaac Burkhalter, Xavier Castillo-Vieria, Mici Cummings, Andrew Curtin, Andrianna Daniels, Ian Davis, Luke Dennis, Cooper Dzema, Kyle Ebanks, Shane Eilers, Graham Fitzgerald, Kevin Fletcher, Rikia Freeman, Raeann Giannattasio, Brandon Ghany, Jalen Granville, Alex Griffin, Allen Lang, Dorothea LeBeau, Dominic Pinnisi, Colin Purcell, Bailey Roe, Khamal-Karim Saunders, Anisha Sharma, Jimmy Smith, Pranav Sridhar, Elias Topp, Nana-Ayana Tyree, Anish Vegesna, Ethan Vicario, Avery Walker, Ian Wnorowski, Victor Yang

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