For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:   UNIS/OS/215
Release Date:   23 March 2000
Outer Space Legal Subcommittee to Hold Thirty-ninth Session
in Vienna,  27 March to 7 April  2000

To Review Concept of  “Launching State” and Adherence to Outer Space Treaties

 VIENNA, 23 March (UN Information Service) -- review of  the concept of the “launching state” and achieving the fullest and widest adherence to the five international treaties governing the uses of outer space will be the main topic for delegates at a meeting of the Legal Subcommittee beginning here on 27 March. The Subcommittee, which, together with the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee  is one of the two subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). meets for its thirty-ninth session which is scheduled to conclude on 7 April.

 This is the first session of the Subcommittee under a new agenda structure that allows for a flexible work plan.  The new agenda structure allows the Subcommittee the opportunity to explore with flexibility the nature and scope of possible new legal issues which might be relevant to activities in outer space, while ensuring the continuation of substantive discussions of issues of importance to Member States. The agenda structure, adopted by COPUOS last year, distinguishes between regular items, items that are discussed under multi-year work plans,  and so called single issues for discussion that feature for one year  and require renewal by consensus to be maintained on the agenda of future sessions. The revision of the agenda structure reflects the reform initiatives of the Secretary-General which aim at making the work of the Organization more effective and result oriented. 

 Recognizing the importance of the obligations and responsibilities imposed on a launching State  under the Liability and Registration Conventions,  the current session of the Subcommittee will review the concept of the “launching State”, as defined in these Conventions. This item will be considered by a working group during a three-year period beginning in 2000 with special presentations on  new launch systems and ventures aimed at  attaining a better understanding of these launch activities and their legal consequences. 

 The Subcommittee will also continue reviewing the status of international legal instruments governing outer space.  In addition to consider the current status of signature and ratification of the treaties, delegates will continue with the three-year work plan of the Subcommittee on this topic. In this final year of the work plan, the Subcommittee will, on the basis of the recommendations of the working group convened last year, consider and implement measures considered adequate to achieve the widest and fullest adherence to the treaties relating to outer space. 

 In the discussion of a new regular agenda item, “Information on the activities of international organizations relating to space law”, Member States will comment on the contents of the reports presented by various international organizations (intergovernmental and non-governmental) on their activities relating to space law, with the intention of  promoting increased international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space .

 Access to and utilization of the geostationary orbit – a special band some 36,000 km above the equator that offers optimal global satellite coverage – will continue to be a regular item at the current session. Some delegates have expressed the view that the geostationary orbit was a limited natural resource and a special legal regime was needed to ensure equitable access to the orbit by all States, especially by developing countries. During the discussion, attention will be focussed on the consideration of legal issues relating to the review of the definition and delimitation of outer space and the character and utilization of the geostationary orbit.

 The Subcommittee will also continue its consideration of legal issues related to the review and possible revision of the United Nations principles relevant to the use of nuclear power sources in outer space. 

 A seminar entitled “Legal Aspects of the Commercialization of Space Activities” will be held at the close of the afternoon meeting on 27 March 2000, sponsored by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) in cooperation with the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL).


The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (“Outer Space Treaty”) provides that space exploration shall be carried out for the benefit of all countries, irrespective of their degree of development.  It also seeks to maintain outer space as the province of all mankind free for exploration and use by all States and not subject to national appropriation. 

The 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (“Rescue Agreement”) provides for aiding the crews of spacecraft in the event of accident or emergency landing, and establishes a procedure for returning to a launching authority a space object found beyond the territorial limits of that authority. 

The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (“Liability Convention”) provides that the launching State is liable for damage caused by its space objects on the Earth`s surface or to aircraft in flight and also to space objects of another State or persons or property on board such objects. 

The1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (“Registration Convention”) provides that launching States shall maintain registries of space objects and furnish specified information on each space objet launched, for inclusion in a central United Nations Register. 

The 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies (“Moon Agreement”) elaborates in more specific terms the principles relating to the Moon and other celestial bodies set out in the 1966 Treaty and sets up the basis for the future regulation of the exploration and exploitation of natural resources found on such bodies. 


Membership in the Subcommittee, the same as in COPUOS, its parent Committee, consists of 61 countries each year. The following are members:

 Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba*, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia*, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru*, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea*, Romania, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam and Yugoslavia.

(*Peru and Malaysia rotate their memberships every two years with Cuba and the Republic of Korea).

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