Round-up of session

3 March 2003

Outer Space Scientific and Technical Subcommittee Concludes Fortieth Session in Vienna

Stresses Use of Space Technology in Achieving UN Development Goals; Adopts New Work Plan on Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space; and Discusses Space Debris

VIENNA, 3 March (UN Information Service) -- Using space technology to help achieve sustainable development goals was seen as an important challenge for the future of the United Nations in its work regarding the peaceful uses of outer space. The topic was amongst the issues discussed by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPOUS) during its fortieth session here (17-28 February).

"Space activities contribute to achieving many of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals -- the challenge is to prove it", the Director of the United Nations' Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA), Sergio Camacho, stressed to the session's participants in his opening statement. To meet that challenge, the future work of the Office will focus on working with member states to match space capabilities with specific UN development goals in a way that yields tangible results through concrete action.

In this regard, the Subcommittee discussed its contribution to major world conferences aimed at achieving the millennium development goals. The session reviewed the recommendations of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) with a special focus on how space technology is relevant to the achievement of sustainable development aims. Participants also discussed the use of satellite communications in bridging the digital divide in preparation for the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to be held in Geneva in December this year with a second phase in Tunis in 2005.

Participants also reviewed the implementation of the recommendations of UNISPACE III (the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space held in Vienna in 1999). The Subcommittee noted that through the implementation of key priority recommendations of UNISPACE III -- for which action teams were established by COPUOS -- space technology could make important contributions to achieve WSSD objectives. The Subcommittee also discussed the preparatory work for the General Assembly's review in 2004 of the achievements of the past five years in meeting the goals and aims of the 1999 world conference.

The key technical topics of discussion for the session included the use of nuclear power sources in outer space, the review of possible guidelines on how to reduce space debris created by space missions, and ways and means to strengthen cooperation and the use of space technology applications within and among the various agencies and programmes of the United Nations system. The Subcommittee finished its multi-year work programmes dealing with disaster management, nuclear power sources and inter-agency cooperation.

Nuclear Power Sources

The Subcommittee decided to continue its review of the use of nuclear power sources in outer space through a new multi-year work plan for the period of 2003-2006. The new work plan aims at starting development of an international technically-based framework of goals and recommendations for the safety of nuclear power source applications in outer space. The aim of those goals would be to provide a common basis for assuring the safety of nuclear power source applications in outer space and to give confidence to the international community that States using nuclear power sources in outer space are adhering to appropriate nuclear safety, radiation protection and environmental protection objectives. In the first phase of the new work plan, national and regional space agencies are expected to present information to the Subcommittee on space applications enabled or significantly enhanced by nuclear power sources.

The new work plan comes on the heels of a four-year work plan on the topic completed during this session. That work plan focused on preparing a detailed report reviewing international documents and national processes potentially relevant to the peaceful uses of nuclear power sources in outer space.

Disaster Management

The Subcommittee wrapped up its multi-year work plan on the topic of "implementation of an integrated, space-based global natural disaster management system." Participants reviewed possible global operational structures to handle natural disaster management with a view of making maximum use of existing and planned space systems. In the course of the discussion, space technologies were recognized as important tools to increase the capacity of all countries to respond effectively in case of national disasters, in particular in developing countries which were less prepared to face costly economic consequences and development setbacks caused by natural disasters. Space technology, such as remote sensing satellites, navigation satellites, and telecommunications satellites, are already used extensively for disaster management.

Space Debris

The Subcommittee continued its work on space debris. An expert body, not affiliated to the United Nations, containing the representatives from various national space agencies -- the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) -- reached a consensus on a set of proposals to reduce the amount of new space debris that is created. The Subcommittee decided to request member states to study the IADC proposals and comment on them for review at its next session in 2004. The ultimate aim of the discussion is to find the appropriate means of endorsing the utilization of the guidelines. At the same time, participants agreed on the importance of paying more attention to the problem of collisions of space objects, including those with nuclear power sources on board, with space debris.

Space technology and medical sciences

The discussion on the use of space technology for medical sciences and public health was a new agenda item for the Subcommittee. Delegates were informed of several initiatives involving the use of space technology for medical services and public health in areas such as telemedicine, space technology for epidemiology and the control of infectious diseases and medical and pharmacological research in microgravity. The Subcommittee noted that telemedicine could be of great importance in providing medical expertise to remote locations. At the next session member states will review the status of telemedicine applications in general and in particular as regards their specific countries. The commercial availability of telemedicine systems and their capacities will also be looked at.

Symposium and exhibition

The applications of satellite navigation and their benefits to developing countries was reviewed in the framework of a joint symposium by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the International Astronautical Federation (IAF). Through a series of presentations the participants discussed the application of satellite navigation in such areas as: civil aviation; environmental monitoring; management of marine resources; agriculture management; river and geophysical mapping; and seismology and geology monitoring. The participants also agreed to focus next year's symposium on small satellite applications in agriculture, health and human security.

The Subcommittee session also coincided with the opening of a special exhibition on "China's Space Activities" at the Vienna International Centre. The exhibition jointly organized by the OOSA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA), displayed amongst others, models of rockets and satellites built and launched by China.


The Subcommittee like COPUOS, its parent Committee, has the following Member States: Albania, Algeria, 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, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Viet Nam.

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