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James Blake

I am a third-year PhD student in the Astronomy and Astrophysics group at the University of Warwick, under the supervision of Prof. Don Pollacco. You can view my CV here.

The debris population at geosynchronous orbit and the fate of aged spacecraft

My PhD project focuses on the imaging and tracking of space debris in geosynchronous Earth orbits (GEOs), around 36000 km above the equator. Geostationary (a special kind of GEO) satellites follow the rotation of the Earth and have the same orbital period, meaning that they appear 'fixed' in the sky. This makes GEOs extremely useful for communications, but space within the belt is very limited. Because of this, the geostationary belt constitutes some of the most expensive real estate available!

Previously, it was thought that the population of debris in GEO would be fairly negligible, since strict regulations are in place to ensure that the satellites are separated by large enough distances. However, the recent apparent destruction of two GEO satellites (AMC-9, Telkom-1) has provided clear evidence that a debris field must exist.

Space debris

Left: [Credit: Earth Observatory, NASA] This image shows the results of a computer simulation used to track orbits of satellites and a large proportion of debris. Two clusters of objects are apparent. The most obvious of these are the low Earth orbit objects, at altitudes < 2000 km, that can be seen as a crowded sphere in the Earth's nearby vicinity. Also clear are the GEO satellites, which map out a well-defined ring in line with the Earth's equator. Other objects are either in highly inclined orbits, or have served their use and been transferred to a so-called 'graveyard' orbit.

Other research interests

During my undergraduate studies, I undertook three Undergraduate Research Support Scheme (URSS) projects:

These are links to posters that give a summary of each one.


I'm passionate about Widening Participation and ensuring everyone has the information they need to decide whether university is for them. I've delivered sessions on "Future Pathways" and "Access to Higher Education" in several schools in the Midlands, outlining what university is like and how to plan for the future effectively.

Alongside this, I've given several talks about my research to all ages, from exoplanets to alien life to satellite debris. These have been to schools and astronomical societies, though I'm happy to branch out!

Here are some prepared talks:

  • "Hitching a ride on asteroids: are we the aliens?"
  • "The very short history of exoplanets"
  • "The sticky issue of space debris"

If any of these appeal then please do not hesitate to get in touch.


First author

Blake, J. A., Chote, P., Pollacco, D., et al., 2020. "Supplementing a survey of geosynchronous debris with commercial-off-the-shelf equipment". In Proceedings of The Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance (AMOS) Technologies Conference

Blake, J. A., Chote, P., Pollacco, D., et al., 2020. "DebrisWatch I: A survey of faint geosynchronous debris". (in press, Advances in Space Research)

Blake, J. A., Chote, P., Pollacco, D., et al., 2019. "Optical imaging of faint geosynchronous debris with the Isaac Newton Telescope". In Proceedings of The Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance (AMOS) Technologies Conference (Student Award)


Foxell, E., Pollacco, D., McCormac, J., et al., 2020. "A Transiting Exoplanet Survey in the Habitable Zones of six mid-late M dwarfs with NITES". (in prep, incl Blake, J. A.)

Chote, P., Blake, J. A. and Pollacco, D., 2019. "Precision optical light curves of LEO and GEO objects". In Proceedings of The Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference

Cooke, B. F., Pollacco, D., Almleaky, Y., et al., 2019. "Two transiting hot Jupiters from the SuperWASP survey: WASP-150b and WASP-176b", The Astronomical Journal, 159, 6 (incl. Blake, J. A.)

Veras, D., Armstrong, D. J., Blake, J. A., et al., 2018. "Dynamical and biological panspermia constraints within multi-planet exosystems", Astrobiology, 18, 9

Armstrong, D. J., de Mooij, E., Barstow, J., et al., 2016. "Variability in the atmosphere of the hot giant planet HAT-P-7 b", Nature Astronomy, 1, 0004 (incl. Blake, J. A.)

Conference Talks & Posters

  • Poster: "Supplementing a survey of GSO debris with COTS equipment" (AMOSTECH, Hawai'i, Sept 2020)
  • Poster: "Optical imaging of faint geosynchronous debris with the INT" (AMOSTECH, Hawai'i, Sept 2019)
  • Talk: "Applying astronomical tools & techniques to Space Situational Awareness" (NAM, Lancaster Uni, July 2019)
  • Poster: "The Warwick DebrisWatch Campaign" (RAS Specialist Meeting, Burlington House, Nov 2018)
  • Talk: "Hitching a ride on asteroids: are we the aliens?" (ICUR, Warwick Uni, Sept 2018)
  • Talk: "Panspermia: are we the aliens?" (BCUR, Sheffield Uni, April 2018)
  • Poster: "Modelling panspermia in TRAPPIST-1" (Posters in Parliament - Winner, Palace of Westminster, Feb 2018)
  • Talk: "Modelling the circumbinary candidate KOI-1741" (ICUR, Warwick Uni, Sept 2016)
  • Poster: "Searching for weather patterns on the Hot Jupiter HAT-P-7b" (ICUR, Warwick Uni, Sept 2015)

Invited Talks

  • "Monitoring the mess of near-Earth space" (SERENE Group, University of Birmingham, UK, Sept 2020)
  • "Monitoring the mess of near-Earth space" (Birmingham Astronomical Society, UK, June 2020)
  • "A watchful eye on the sky" (Warwick Aerospace Society, UK, Nov 2019)
  • "A watchful eye on the sky" (UC Irvine, California, Sept 2019)
  • "A watchful eye on the sky" (NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, California, Sept 2019)
  • "Warwick space debris projects" (w/ Prof. Don Pollacco, Warwick Aerospace Society, UK, Feb 2019)
  • "Warwick space debris projects" (w/ Dr. Paul Chote, Warwick Astronomy & Astrophysics Group, UK, Feb 2019)
  • "Monitoring the mess of near-Earth space" (Warwick Astronomy Society, UK, Jan 2019)
  • "The debris population at GEO and the fate of aged spacecraft" (Warwick Astronomy Society, UK, Feb 2018)
  • "Extrasolar panspermia: are we the aliens?" (Stratford Upon Avon Astronomical Society, UK, Nov 2017)
  • "Circumbinary planets: a closer look at Tatooine" (Warwick Astronomy Society, UK, Nov 2016)


La Palma 2018

Write to:

James Blake,
Department of Physics,
University of Warwick,
Coventry CV4 7AL


Twitter: @jblake_95
GitHub: jblake95
LinkedIn: jamesblake95
ResearchGate: James_Blake8

Contact details:

Office: PS.011 (Physical Sciences)