United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) was established in 1959 (shortly after the launch of Sputnik) as an ad hoc committee. In 1959, it was formally established by United Nations resolution 1472 (XIV).
The mission of COPUOS is "to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programmes in this field to be undertaken under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space."
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) is Secretariat to the Committee. All documents related to the Committee and its subcommittees, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee, can be found at the UNOOSA website.
Treaties and agreements
COPUOS oversees the implementation of five UN treaties and agreements relating to activities in outer space:
- "Outer Space Treaty" - The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
- "Rescue Agreement" - The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space
- "Liability Convention" - The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects
- "Registration Convention" - The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space
- "Moon Treaty" - The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
COPUOS also keeps track of the following other international agreements relating to activities in outer space:
- Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water (NTB)
- Convention Relating to the Distribution of Programme–Carrying Signals Transmitted by Satellite (BRS)
- Agreement relating to the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO)
- Agreement on the establishment of the International System and Organization of Space Communications (INTERSPUTNIK)
- Convention for the establishment of a European Space Agency (ESA)
- Agreement of the Arab Corporation for Space Communications (ARABSAT)
- Agreement on Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes (INTERCOSMOS)
- Convention on the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO)
- Convention establishing the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization (EUTELSAT)
- Convention for the establishment of a European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT)
- International Telecommunication Constitution and Convention (ITU)
Near-Earth object deflection and disaster response
The Association of Space Explorers (ASE), working in conjunction with B612 Foundation members, helped obtain UN oversight of near-Earth object (NEO) tracking and deflection missions through COPUOS along with its Action Team 14 (AT-14) expert group. Several members of B612 and ASE have worked with COPUOS since 2001 to establish international involvement for both impact disaster responses, and on deflection missions to prevent impact events. As explained by B612 Foundation Chair Emeritus Rusty Schweickart in 2013, "No government in the world today has explicitly assigned the responsibility for planetary protection to any of its agencies".
In October 2013 the UN committee approved several measures to deal with terrestrial asteroid impacts, including the creation of an International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) to act as a clearing house for shared information on dangerous asteroids and for any future terrestrial impact events that are identified. A UN Space Missions Planning Advisory Group will also coordinate joint studies of the technologies for deflection missions, and as well provide oversight of actual missions. This is due to deflection missions typically involving a progressive movement of an asteroid's predicted impact point across the surface of the Earth (and also across the territories of uninvolved countries) until the NEO has been deflected either ahead of, or behind the planet at the point their orbits intersect. Schweickart states that an initial framework of international cooperation at the UN is needed to guide the policy makers of its member nations on several important NEO-related aspects.
At about the same time of the UN's policy adoption in New York City, Schweickart and four other ASE member, including B612 head Ed Lu and strategic advisers Dumitru Prunariu and Tom Jones, participated at a public forum moderated by Neil deGrasse Tyson not far from the UN's headquarters, urging the global community to adopt further important steps towards planetary defense against the threat of NEO impacts. Their recommendations included:
- UN delegates briefing their home countries' policymakers on the UN's newest roles;
- having each country's government create defined asteroid disaster response plans, assigning fiscal resources to deal with asteroid impacts, and delegating a lead agency to handle its disaster response in order to create clear lines of communication from the IAWN to the affected countries;
- having their governments support the ASE's and B612's efforts to identify "city-killer" NEOs capable of impacting Earth, estimated at about a million, by deploying a space-based asteroid telescope, and
- committing member states to launching an international test deflection mission within 10 years.
The ad hoc Committee established by the General Assembly in its resolution 1348 (XIII) of 13 December 1958 was composed of representatives of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Sweden, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Arab Republic, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America.
As of 2014, the Committee has 76 member States, and is one of the largest committees of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The member States of the Committee are: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Belarus, Benin, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Hungary, Germany, Ghana, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, The Netherlands, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and Viet Nam.
International organizations with permanent observer status
The following non-UN organizations have permanent observer status with the Committee:
- Association of Space Explorers (ASE)
- Committee on Space Research (COSPAR)
- European Space Agency (ESA)
- International Academy of Astronautics (IAA)
- International Astronautical Federation (IAF)
- International Astronomical Union (IAU)
- International Law Association (ILA)
- International Mobile Satellite Organization (Inmarsat)
- International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT)
- International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS)
- International Space University (ISU)
- The Planetary Society (TPS)
- Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC).
- Status of International Agreements relating to activities in outer space as at 1 January 2012
- Astronauts and Cosmonauts Call for Global Cooperation on Asteroid Threat, Earth & Sky website, October 28, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
- O'Neill, Ian. United Nations to Spearhead Asteroid Deflection Plan, Discovery.com website, October 28, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
- Aron, Jacob. UN Sets Up Asteroid Peacekeepers to Defend Earth, New Scientist website, October 28, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
- Netburn, Deborah. UN Aims to Fight Asteroids, Creates a Global Warning Network, Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
- Chang, Kenneth. More Asteroid Strikes Are Likely, Scientists Say, The New York Times website, November 6, 2013, and in print on November 7, 2013, p. A12 of the New York edition. Retrieved June 26, 2014.
- International Institute of Space Law
- Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on the website of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, which serves as the secretariat for the COPUOS
- Press Release: Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Concludes 48th Session in Vienna, from June 20, 2005
- Slideshow about COPUOS and other organizations on the website of the United Nations Basic Space Science Initiative (UNBSSI)