11 April 2008

Outer Space Legal Subcommittee Concludes 47th Session in Vienna

VIENNA, 11 April (UN Information Service) -- Capacity-building in space law and exchange of information on national legislation relevant to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space were the two key new items on the agenda of the 47th session of the Legal Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) that took place from 31 March to 11 April in Vienna, Austria. Prof. Vladimír Kopal (Czech Republic) was elected Chairman of the Subcommittee for the period 2008-2009.

Other topics included the status and application of the five United Nations treaties on outer space, the definition and delimitation of outer space, matters relating to the character and use of the geostationary orbit, the draft Protocol on Matters Specific to Space Assets to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment and review and possible revision of the Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space. The Subcommittee also heard reports by international organizations on their activities related to space law.

A symposium on "Legal Implications of Space Applications for Climate Change", held alongside the Subcommittee's session, was organized by the International Institute of Space Law and the European Centre for Space. It drew attention to the complex legal issues relating to the use of space applications in monitoring the effects of global climate change.

The Subcommittee paid tribute to Sir Arthur C. Clarke, a writer and pioneer in the field of space, who passed away on 19 March. On 3 April, the Subcommittee observed live a fully automated docking of the European man-rated robotic cargo spaceship "Jules Verne" with the International Space Station (ISS). This was the very first time for the European countries participating in this project of the European Space Agency (ESA) to perform an automated docking. The docking also marks the beginning of Jules Verne's main servicing mission to deliver cargo, propellant, water, oxygen and propulsion capacity to the ISS. The Subcommittee congratulated the Republic of Korea for the historic flight of its first astronaut, Yi So-yeon, a 29-year-old female engineer, who was part of the Expedition-17 crew that successfully docked with the ISS on 10 April. As a symbol of the Republic of Korea's commitment to the ideals of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, Ms. Yi, the youngest woman to ever launch into space, carried the UN flag onboard ISS.

Capacity-building in space law

How to successfully build capacity in space law, particularly in developing countries, was one of the key issues discussed under this new agenda item, and education, research and development, and dissemination of information were identified as necessary to enhance capacity in this area. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) presented its efforts to develop a curriculum for a basic course on space law that would initiate space law studies in the four Regional Centres for Space Science and Technology Education, affiliated to the UN, which are located in Africa, Asia and South America. UNOOSA also presented an updated directory of education opportunities in space law, including information on available fellowships/scholarships, which is available on its website ( http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/SpaceLaw/index.html).

General exchange of information on national legislation relevant to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space

The exchange of information under this new agenda item enabled Government representatives participating in the session to strengthen their knowledge of the various legal frameworks instituted by States at the national level regarding the conduct of activities in outer space. The Subcommittee will consider this item under the multi-year work plan for the period of 2008-2011. In 2009, a working group on this item will be established to examine the responses received by Member States on their manner of regulating governmental and non-governmental space activities.

Status and application of the five United Nations treaties on outer space

At the current session, the working group on this item addressed, in particular, the low participation of States in the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. It reviewed activities currently being carried out on the Moon and other celestial bodies or to be carried out in the near future, identified some of the international and national rules governing the activities on the Moon and other celestial bodies, the benefits of adherence to the Moon Agreement and discussed whether existing international rules adequately addressed activities on the Moon and other celestial bodies. The working group also noted that a number of States had national legislation governing activities on the Moon, whose space activities acts applied to any activity in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and that some States were developing such national laws. Austria announced that it will organize an interdisciplinary seminar on issues related to the Moon Agreement before the next session of the Subcommittee in 2009.

Definition and delimitation of outer space

The working group on this matter reviewed responses by Member States to a questionnaire on possible legal issues with regard to aerospace objects. The working group also examined replies by Member States on national legislation and practice relating to definition and delimitation as well their replies on existing questions regarding the definition and delimitation of outer space.

Registering property interests in space assets

The Subcommittee reviewed the progress being made by the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) in developments regarding its draft Protocol on Matters Specific to Space Assets to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment. While the Convention encompasses a general legal framework for registering interests in mobile high-value equipment that move across national boundaries, its protocols are aimed at specific equipment, such as aeroplanes and trains. The draft Protocol on Matters Specific to Space Assets is aimed at establishing an international system for registering property interests in space assets, such as satellites.

New agenda items

At the next session, the Subcommittee will introduce the new agenda item "General exchange of information on national mechanisms relating to space debris mitigation measures". This will enable Member States to exchange information on their best practices regarding the space debris problem as well as information on possible incorporation of the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of COPUOS that were adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, which are voluntary and aimed at increasing the mutual understanding of acceptable activities in space, enhancing stability in space and decreasing the likelihood of friction.


The Legal Subcommittee, like COPUOS, its parent committee, has the following 69 Member States: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Bolivia, 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, Libya, 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, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Viet Nam.

The following intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations have permanent observer status with COPUOS: African Organization of Cartography and Remote Sensing, Association of Space Explorers, Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, Committee on Space Research, Regional Centre for Remote Sensing of the North African States, Eurisy, European Space Agency, European Space Policy Institute, International Academy of Astronautics, International Astronautical Federation, International Astronomical Union, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, International Law Association, International Mobile Satellite Organization, Intersputnik International Organization of Space Communications, International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, International Space University, National Space Society, Space Generation Advisory Council, The Planetary Society and World Spaceweek Association.


The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) was set up by the General Assembly in 1959 to review the scope of international cooperation in the 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. COPUOS and its two Subcommittees each meet annually to consider questions put before them by the General Assembly, reports submitted to them and issues raised by the Member States. The Committee and the Subcommittees, working on the basis of consensus, make recommendations to the General Assembly.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) implements the decisions of the General Assembly and of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its two Subcommittees, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee. The Office is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, and assisting developing countries in using space science and technology. Located in Vienna, Austria, OOSA maintains a website at http://www.unoosa.org/.

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For further information, please contact:

Romana Kofler
Associate Programme Officer, UNOOSA
Telephone: +43 1 26060-4962
Email: romana.kofler@unvienna.org