Round-up of session

24 June 2003

UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Concludes Forty-Sixth Session in Vienna

A report on the implementation of the UNISPACE III recommendations was prepared, and the issue of space debris, the international satellite system for search and rescue, and satellite-based telemedicine were discussed

VIENNA, 24 June (UN Information Service) -- The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) held its forty-sixth session in Vienna from 11 to 20 June 2003. The Committee finalized the outline of the report on the implementation of the recommendations of UNISPACE III, which will be submitted to the General Assembly in 2004. The Committee reviewed and endorsed the reports of both the Scientific and Technical and the Legal Subcommittee. Other matters that were discussed included the issue of space debris and the international satellite system for search and rescue. The Committee also saw a live demonstration of satellite-based telemedicine.

Implementation of UNISPACE III recommendations

The Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was held in 1999. Eleven action teams were established to report on progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the conference. Each of the eleven action teams reported to the Committee on their particular area, on issues such as a global environmental monitoring strategy, the activities of the International GPS Service, and new and innovative sources of funding. A new action team on knowledge-sharing was established, which will in particular deal with issues related to bridging the digital divide. Based on the input submitted by the eleven action teams, as well as input from UN system Organizations and NGOs working in areas related to Outer Space, the Committee will submit a report to the General Assembly, for the "plus 5" review of the UNISPACE III conference in 2004. The outline of this report was finalized at this session.

International Satellite system for Search and Rescue

The Committee considered the activities of the International Satellite System for Search and Rescue (COSPAS-SARSAT). The system provides distress alert and location information to search and rescue, for aviation, maritime and land users in distress, working world-wide, with no discrimination and free of charge, using satellite systems to relay and process the transmissions of distress radio-beacons. COSPAS-SARSAT has been in use since 1982 and has assisted in over 4,500 search and rescue events, involving the rescue of over 15,000 lives, and is therefore an excellent example of international cooperation in using space technology for the benefit of humankind.

Satellite-based live telemedicine demonstration

The United Nations Programme on Space Applications in cooperation with Joanneum Research and the Technical University of Graz conducted a live interactive demonstration of satellite-based telemedicine to the Committee. A transportable satellite station was installed at the Vienna International Centre, and the satellite signal received by the station was further beamed in to the room in which interactive equipment was installed. The demonstration showed an example of high-speed transfer of computer tomography images and parallel tele-consultancy: this is where medical experts communicate with each other in a video conference, possibly during a surgery. The use of satellite-based telemedicine is expected to significantly improve medical services, particularly in areas where the necessary infrastructure is not available, such as rural and isolated areas.

Space debris

The Committee saw a presentation by Italy on the management of the re-entry of an Italian scientific satellite called Beppo SAX into the atmosphere in 2003. Based on the example of Beppo SAX, the presentation included lessons learned and recommendations for future re-entries of obsolete spacecraft, in particular concerning information strategy and risk management. The Committee agreed that international cooperation was needed to expand appropriate and affordable strategies to minimise the potential impact of space debris on future space missions. The Committee requested all its Member States to study the proposals of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), which had been presented at the session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee earlier this year. It was agreed that Member States would provide their comments on the proposals to the Office for Outer Space Affairs before the next session of the Subcommittee early next year, at which a working group would be established to consider these comments.

Nuclear power sources in Outer Space

The Committee noted that an exchange of views had taken place in the Legal Subcommittee on the review and possible revision of the Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space. The issue will be further discussed at the Subcommittee Sessions early next year.

The legal concept of the "launching State"

A proposal for a draft General Assembly resolution on this issue was submitted to the Committee. The Committee agreed that a revised text of the draft will be further discussed by the Legal Subcommittee during its next session in early 2004. The concept of the "launching State" has important legal implications, because the United Nations treaties governing the peaceful uses of Outer Space impose obligations on launching States, regarding in particular the registration of objects launched into space, and liability for any damages caused.

Space and water

The Committee adopted a new agenda item titled "Space and water" for its session next year. Over 1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. If current trends persist, two-thirds of the world's population will be living with serious water shortages by the year 2025. The Committee will explore ways in which space agencies and other organizations could work together to find ways to facilitate international cooperation in the development and use of water resources, using space-based data.

Bureaux of the Committee and its Subcommittees for 2004

The Committee appointed the following officers for the Bureaux of the Committee and its Subcommittees for 2004 and 2005:


Chairman: Adigun Ade Abiodun (Nigeria)

First Vice-Chairman: Ciro Arevalo Yepes (Colombia)

Second Vice-Chairman/Rapporteur: Parviz Tarikhi (Islamic Republic of Iran)

Scientific and Technical Subcommittee:

Chairman: Dumitru Dorin Prunariu (Romania)

Legal Subcommittee:

Chairman: Sergio Marchisio

Candidature for Membership

The Committee agreed to consider the candidature for membership of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, endorsed by the Group of African states, at its next session.

Membership of the Committee

The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space currently 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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