Press Releases

    Round-up of Session

    UNIS/OS/241
    13 March 2002

    OUTER SPACE SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL SUBCOMMITTEE CONCLUDES THIRTY-NINTH SESSION IN VIENNA

    Discusses Implementation of UNISPACE III Recommendations,
    Natural Disaster Management and Space Debris


    VIENNA, 13 March (UN Information Service) -- The implementation of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) recommendations, disaster management, use of nuclear power sources in outer space and space debris were among the main topics discussed at the thirty-ninth session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).

    Natural Disaster Management

    In accordance with the work plan adopted at its thirty-eighth session, the Subcommittee reviewed existing and proposed satellite and data distribution systems that could be used operationally for disaster management and identified gaps in those systems. The delegates at the current session noted that many disaster management efforts around the world were successfully using space technologies such as satellite remote sensing, global navigation satellite systems and satellite telecommunications, often together with other technologies such as geographic information systems.

    As disaster areas are generally inaccessible after the occurrence of disasters, Earth observation satellites offer an opportunity to provide extensive images of the affected areas; and due to their wide availability, Earth observation satellites have a high frequency and diverse range of coverage.

    Space-based technologies are being used to support disaster management activities related to weather forecasting, including forecasting of intensive weather such as tropical cyclones, tornadoes and severe storms, heavy precipitation and extreme temperatures, as well as seasonal to inter-annual predictions of phenomena such as El Niño; flooding; landslides; coastal hazards; wildfires; drought and vegetation stress; snow and ice cover; volcanic ash clouds; seismic hazards; harmful algal blooms; disease outbreaks and pest invasions; and technological disasters, such as oil spills and air pollution events.

    For instance, the International Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System (COSPAS-SARSAT) is using satellites in low-Earth and geostationary orbits to detect and locate aviators, mariners and land-based users in distress, and contributed to saving 178 lives in the United States of America in 2001. The Subcommittee also welcomed the launch of experimental disaster management satellites, including the BIRD satellite of Germany, testing new technologies to monitor forest fires and similar disasters, and the Kompass satellite of the Russian Federation, testing the feasibility of using space technology for earthquake prediction.

    The Subcommittee, however, identified certain gaps in satellite and data distribution systems, such as inadequate communication support to relief operations, lack of coordination between government agencies and the need to establish a system of operational disaster support centres in some countries.

    The Subcommittee also noted that proper disaster management depends not only on the availability and dissemination of information, but also on the effective use of that information, which in turn depends on the capacity available in terms of human resources and organizational infrastructure.

    Nuclear Power Sources

    This year, a working group of the Subcommittee finalized an important report, developed under a multi-year work plan, entitled »A review of international documents and national processes potentially relevant to the peaceful uses of nuclear power sources in outer space«. The Subcommittee noted this work, and the contributions made by individual member States to the report, with appreciation. The delegates agreed that the working group should continue its work and develop a set of potential options for consideration by the Subcommittee on any additional steps that might be deemed appropriate with regard to space nuclear power sources, including that of drawing up a further multi-year work plan.

    International Cooperation in Limiting Obtrusive Space Advertising

    Obtrusive space advertising that could interfere with astronomical observations was considered by the Subcommittee. Preservation of a balance between the wide variety of uses of outer space, including the need to preserve astronomical observation conditions in a state as close to natural as possible, has been a concern to the scientific community for many years.

    In 2000, the United States Congress passed legislation prohibiting the Secretary of Transportation, through the Federal Aviation Administration, from issuing or transferring a licence for the commercial launch of a payload containing any material to be used for the purposes of obtrusive space advertising. Obtrusive space advertising is defined by the United States law as advertising in outer space that is capable of being recognized by a human being on the surface of the Earth without the aid of a telescope or other technological device. The regulation should not apply to commercial space advertising practices that are already common, such as placing logos on commercial launch vehicles or payloads, because these symbols are not visible with the naked eye to a terrestrial observer once the vehicles or facilities have been placed in orbit.

    UNISPACE III Recommendations

    UNISPACE III, a major world conference held in Vienna in 1999, agreed on a set of recommendations on how space technology can make an essential contribution to the following fields: remote sensing to protect the environment, facilitating and utilizing communications, improving and using positioning and location capabilities, furthering knowledge and building capacity, enhancing education and training opportunities for youth, information technology needs and the global approach, spin-offs and commercial benefits from space activities: promoting technology development and exchange, and promoting international cooperation.

    A number of »action teams« have been established to work on individual recommendations, including the recommendations of highest priority to member States of the Subcommittee. These action teams provided reports to the Subcommittee on progress made since their establishment in 2001, as well as plans for future progress.

    Space Debris

    Space debris impact hazards and shielding were the focus of the Subcommittee's discussion on space debris in 2002. As early as next year, the Subcommittee may consider proposals for voluntary standards to limit the amount of space debris that is created. These proposals are currently being developed by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), an organization with representatives from national space agencies.

    Membership

    The Subcommittee, like COPOUS, its parent Committee, has the following member States:

    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, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam.

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    For more information about the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs,
    please visit the following web site:

    http://www.oosa.unvienna.org

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