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Avi Schiffman & team mates demonstrate Debris Hunters at NASA SpaceApps Challenge 2019

The Seattle chapter of the 2019 NASA SpaceApps Challenge was an enormously fun and educational event.

My team, The Debris Hunters, created an educational 3D arcade shooter where players destroy space debris with a variety of tools including laser, harpoons and more. The goal of the project was to increase public awareness of orbital debris and enable them to take action.

The problem of orbital debris explained

The primary problem of orbital debris: bits of metal and paint break off of satellites and spacecraft in orbit and have nowhere to go: they keep spinning around Earth at high velocity and eventually damage our orbital infrastructure and injure astronauts working in orbit. The worst-case scenario of orbital debris is Kessler Syndrome: an unstoppable cascade of orbital collisions that destroy all infrastructure in space — trillions of dollars of investment.

The secondary problem of orbital debris: not enough people know about it, and there’s no international momentum behind controlling it.

That’s why it’s important to find ways to raise awareness of orbital debris and identify paths to remediating the problem. Enter: The Debris Hunters.

Debris Hunters: The Game

The Debris Hunters - Game interface - 2019Components of the MVP

  1. Player is positioned on a space station in orbit around Earth
  2. Player can view current likelihood of triggering Kessler Syndrome
  3. Orbital debris approaches player and must be dealt with
  4. Player can shoot orbital debris with laser pistol
  5. Orbital space is either “saved” or Kessler Syndrome is triggered
  6. If player fails and triggers Kessler Syndrome, they are given the opportunity to email the US House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology to advocate for an international space debris policy

Play the game!

Play the game now at

(Due to domain expiration and the ephemeral nature of hackathons, link may not work after October 20, 2020, so play now.)

Future expansion opportunities

  1. Update types of orbital debris to look more representative of the actual trash in space
  2. Add more options for eliminating debris: harpoon, net, magnets, and more
  3. Port to mobile and/or VR

Check out our final presentation from the event! It’s only 4 minutes.

If you can’t see our presentation, go to YouTube and start at timestamp 2:21:16.

And follow along with the slides as we present:

What I learned

SpaceApps was my first hackathon, and I felt a wide range of emotions throughout the experience: anxiety that it wouldn’t be fun, giddiness at meeting new people, frustration that I didn’t know how to proceed, uncertainty around doing something new, and the thrill of presenting in front of a full room of space-loving NASA nerds.

But I also learned something deeply valuable simply by focusing for 48 hours on the problem of orbital debris: we must commit to maintaining our satellite environment if we want to continue innovating on- and off-world. 

Therefore I extend my heartfelt thanks to NASA and our Seattle organizer Michael Doyle for providing an opportunity to participate and to all my teammates for including me on the Debris Hunters team.

Team photos!


Half the team taking a break for a mentor’s presentation.


The other half of the team hoping their code deploys properly.

Links for more information