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.
The United Nations involvement in space related activities can be traced back to the beginning of the Space Race. After the first man-made object orbited the Earth in 1957, the UN has focused on ensuring outer space is used for peaceful purposes. The Launch of Sputnik marked the beginning of the Space Race as well as the beginning of satellite use for the advancement of science.
As the Cold War began, fear of Outer Space being used for military purposes spread through the international community. This led to the creation of multiple organizations with the intent of governing how outer space can be used in order to assure it does not become the next frontier for conflict.
In 1958, the United Nations established the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space which originally consisted of 18 members: 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.
In 1959, the United Nations permanently established the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and grew to involve 24 countries (Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Lebanon, and Romania.) The main focuses of COPUOS is to promote cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space, and share information regarding outer space and its exploration.
Treaties and agreements
- "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)
Concerns about ratification and enforcement
Both the former USSR and the USA engaged in an "arms race" including weapons systems functional in low-orbit altitudes; US President Ronald Reagan termed it "star wars"; this raised serious concerns. Space-based nuclear weapons tests are explicitly banned, however, several nation-states with the capacity for satellite launch are not members of the NPT, and have had a poor record on disclosure of weapons, particularly of concern is tendency toward Nuclear Ambiguity, and how such policy may effect the current treaty. In 2017, with the reports of "Sonic attacks" on US staff of diplomatic missions in Cuba, the ban on space-based weapons systems is again on the radar.
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 (SMPAG) 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 (Oct 2013) 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 first meetings of IAWN and SMPAG were held in 2014.
The Committee was first established by the General Assembly in its resolution 1348 (XIII) of 13 December 1958 and was originally composed of 18 members. It has grown to include 92 members as of 2019, and is subsequently one of the largest committees of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The evolution of the composition of the Committee is as follows:
- After Czechoslovakia's break up, its seat was taken up by the Czech Republic. Slovakia would later re-join in 2001.
- After the Soviet Union's break up, its seat was taken up by the Russian Federation. Kazakhstan and Ukraine would later re-join in 1994. Azerbaijan would re-join in 2011. Armenia would re-join in 2012. Belarus would re-join in 2013.
- After the United Arab Republic's break up, its seat was taken up by Egypt. Syria would re-join in 1980
- After the Iranian Revolution, Iran's seat was taken up by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
- The German seat was combined after German reunification.
- After Sudan's break up, South Sudan left the Committee.
- Since Yugoslavia's break up, none of its successor states have joined the Committee.
- Upper Volta would later become Burkina Faso.
- After the fall of Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, its seat was taken over by the State of Libya.
In addition to the Committee's Member States, a number of international organizations, including both intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, have observer status with COPUOS and its subcommittees. The following is a list of the Committee's observers, with the year they were granted that status:
The following is the Bureau of the Committee for its 61st Session, which ran from 20-29 June 2018.
|Rosa María del Refugio Ramírez de Arellano y Haro||Mexico||Chair|
|Thomas Djamaluddin||Indonesia||First Vice-Chair|
|Keren Shahar Ben-Ami||Israel||Second Vice-Chair and Rapporteur|
|Pontsho Maruping||South Africa||Chair of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee|
|Andrzej Miszal||Poland||Chair of the Legal Subcommittee|
- "1472 (XIV). International co-operation in the peaceful uses of outer space". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
- "Scientific and Technical Subcommittee Sessions". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
- "Legal Subcommittee Sessions". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
- "COPUOS History". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
- "Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space: Membership Evolution". Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
- sinead.harvey. "History". www.unoosa.org. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
- 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.
- Building International Infrastructure for Planetary Defense July 2015
- United Nations General Assembly Session 13 Resolution 1348. Question of the peaceful use of outer space A/RES/1348(XIII) 13 December 1958. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
- "Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space: Membership Evolution". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. United Nations. n.d. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
- "Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space: Observer Organizations". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. United Nations. n.d. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
- Manhire, Vanessa, ed. (2018). United Nations Handbook 2018–19 (PDF) (56 ed.). Wellington: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of New Zealand. p. 57-58. ISSN 0110-1951.
- 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)