— For more than 50 years, Omega has helped astronauts keep track of time as they travel through space and walk on the moon. Now, through a new collaboration, the Swiss watchmaker is lending its timekeeping skills to help track all of the objects humanity has placed and left in Earth orbit, ensuring astronauts can navigate safely through outer space for many years to come.
Omega has partnered with Privateer, which is dedicated to bringing “much-needed improvements to the way we collect and process information about space objects.” On Monday, March 1, Privateer launched Wayfinder, an open-access, near real-time visualization of satellites and debris in Earth orbit. The web app offers time tracking by Omega.
“We are thrilled to partner with Omega on the launch of Privateer’s proprietary knowledge graph technology,” said Alex Fielding, CEO and President of Privateer, in a statement released by Omega. “Omega has deep roots in the exploration of land, sea and space, and with their support, Privateer will be able to advance humanity’s exploration and understanding of this ultimate frontier. “
First announced in September 2021 by company chairman and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Privateer has worked largely in stealth mode to create what he has called the “Google Maps of Space.” The launch of Wayfinder marked the first of Privateer’s “many small steps” toward creating a sustainable future in space, the company announced on Twitter on Monday.
According to the Privateer website, more than 27,000 man-made objects are currently tracked in orbit. This number, however, only reflects objects larger than a softball. “The actual amount of space debris larger than 1 mm is estimated to be over 100 million.”
Added to this are the 24,000 satellites expected to be launched over the next decade.
“While this represents great progress for space economics and human space exploration, it also comes with significant risks and challenges,” reads Privateer’s website. “Our lives depend on what’s in space. Even the smallest piece of debris, orbiting at 17,000 miles per hour [27,360 k/ph]can damage satellites and disrupt space services that have become essential to our daily lives.”
Like the Apollo missions in which Omega’s Speedmaster became the first watch to be worn on the moon, the Privateer mission is also manned by a crew of three. In addition to Fielding and Wozniak, astrodynamicist and space environmentalist Moriba Jah is chief scientist and guided the development of Privateer’s technology.
“We all need to embrace stewardship as if our lives depend on it,” Jah said. “Because they do.”
The level of data collection and modeling required for a project such as Wayfinder is a monumental undertaking, said Omega Chairman and CEO Raynald Aeschlimann. Omega and Privateer “share an understanding that the clock on space sustainability is ticking and the time for action is now.”
“With this new project, we can give back to the planet from the depths of the sea to beyond the skies,” said Aeschlimann. “There is also a great synergy between Omega and Privateer. We share an obsessive attention to detail. The inside of a mechanical watch is like a mini universe. ‘it endures.’
The partnership with Privateer follows another Omega collaboration focused on space debris. In January, the watchmaker announced its support for ClearSpace and its efforts to perform the first-ever capture and removal of an uncontrolled space satellite from Earth orbit. In 2020, ClearSpace signed a service contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for the first space debris removal mission, scheduled for 2025.
“Our partnership with Privateer is like finding the final piece of the puzzle,” said Aeschlimann.
“Just as the famous Earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8 inspired the start of the green movement, this digital map of humanity’s spatial footprint is sure to play an equally important role in raising awareness of our planet’s fragility.”