UN Perspectives on Space
April 27, 2010
The UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS), established in 1959 and composed of 69 member states, recently held its Science and Technology Subcommittee meetings in Vienna. The mission of COPUOS is “to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of space, to create programs under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on space matters, and to study legal problems arising from space exploration.” COPUOS is responsible for the five major international treaties regarding use of space. Many in the United States are unfamiliar and even uninterested in COPUOS. However, given the topics of discussion, U.S. space stakeholders could find value in monitoring and possibly contributing to the activities of this committee.
At the recent COPUOS session, two key areas should call for U.S. space stakeholder attention. The first, the “promotion of space applications,” largely showcased nonmilitary space-related efforts of individual countries, regional organizations, and nongovernmental entities. For example, consider the following COPUOS presentations:
- The European Space Agency’s TIGER program, which provides developing nations, primarily in Africa, with earth observation information services for the purpose of integrated water resources management. Understandably, land use and resource management continue to be a major focus of commercial and governmental interests.
- The UN SPIDER program (Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response), which provides access to space-based information to prevent and support disaster management efforts. Recent catastrophes in Haiti and Chile underscore the importance and implication of such efforts and the need for proper information to direct action.
- The integration and application of global navigation satellite systems like GPS, GLOSNASS, Galileo, Beidou, and other region-based augmentation systems. Many of these efforts openly seek a reduction of dependence on the U.S. GPS constellation and ground products. Do commercial and security stakeholders in the United States fully appreciate a world where regional or global navigation systems compete?
The second key area, and of equal significance, is “long-term sustainability of space activities.” The concept, while not new, is associated with the collection and articulation of best practices in the use of space. Its focus has four primary components: (1) space debris counterproliferation and mitigation, (2) space operations safety, (3) radio frequency spectrum management, and (4) natural space environment disturbance management. The French delegation initiated this latest effort in 2009. While progress during this session was modest, it was clear that these discussions represent the foundation for future international standards in managing the domain of space.
The next COPUOS meeting will occur in June 2010. Few stakeholders in the U.S. space community have paid much attention in the past. That should change. Much can be gained by observing COPUOS’ activities. This body provides valuable insight and access to the points of view of our global partners. Further, the COPUOS presentations highlight an evolving landscape on the use of space assets. As such, the full spectrum of U.S. stakeholders, from policymakers to entrepreneurs, should monitor COPUOS activity for fresh perspectives, interesting opportunities, and context for the future.
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