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Posted on on June 11th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space – the UN COPUOS – of OOSA The Office of Outer Soase Affairs.…

The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was set up by the General Assembly in 1959 ( resolution 1472 (XIV)) to review the scope of international cooperation in 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.

Number of Member States in the Committee: 71

The Committee has two standing Subcommittees of the whole:

The Committee and its two Subcommittees 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. Detailed information on the work of the Committee and the Subcommittees are contained in their annual reports.

The fifty-fifth session of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will be held from 6-15 June 2012 at the United Nation Office at Vienna, Vienna International Center, Vienna, Austria.

Further resources on the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space:


We are partial to this office because of my co-chairing at the UN Conference  on the Outer Space that was held in Vienna -UNISPACE-II of 1982 – a special NGO Session on BIOMASS AND OUTER SPACE – that had two parts. The morning dealt with experiments with biological material – the like of algae being grown in Soviet Satellites, and then the  after-noon dealt with Remote Sensing for inventory Taking of Biomass on Earth – this latter being a precursor of measurements on forestry and climate change effects – to mention just two widely used means of measurement from Space in areas with importance to the Rio+20 upcoming meeting.

UNISPACE I was in 1968 and the idea of having an Outer Space office at the UN goes back to 1959 – following the launching of the first Sputnick in 1957.

As remarked by Professor U.R.Rao of the Department of Space, Bangalore, India:

Recognising the immense potential of space technology for socioeconomic development, the United Nations established the Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS) in 1959 for promoting greater international collaboration among all nations in the development and application of space technology.
The UN-COPUOS, organized the first UNISPACE Conference in Vienna in 1968, which succeeded in bringing an awareness of the vast potential of space benefits to all the Member States.
Significant successes achieved in the seventies in the application of space technology, particularly in communication, weather monitoring and management of natural resources, clearly established the urgent need to promote greater use of space technology in all Member Nations through international cooperation, paving the way for the organization of UNISPACE-II in Vienna in 1982.
Following the recommendations of UNISPACE-II, the United Nations programme on space applications was considerably strengthened and expanded, resulting in increased opportunity for developing countries to participate in educational and training activities in space science and technology and to develop their indigeneous capabilities in the use of space technology applications.

In this regard, our attention turned to this meeting when we accidentally found out that China provided last Friday a weather satellite to the UN office.


This Year’s meetings of the Committee on the Peacefull Uses of Outer Space extend June 6-15, 2012, and include several highlights.

– As such – this year NASA – the USGS ellebrate 40 years since the 1972 establishment of LANDSAT global surveillance system or – four decades of Earth Observation. This prompted a very interesting exhibit in the rotunda of the Vienna UN Center. This alone deserves a further posting by us.

– The Friday hand-over by China of a Beidoo satellite to be used for navigation purpose i.e. help in bringing a ship into a harbor and making safer its docking as well.

– in light of this year’s Rio Conference the in the opening  of the UNIS/OS/418 Press release we find:

“Among topics discussed will be space and climate change, space and water, use of space technology in the UN system, in particular how to strengthen the relevance of space science and technology and their applications in meeting the outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).”

I went back to the UN on Monday, June 11th, got to meet Ms. Romana Kofler of UNOOSA and from the agenda she gave me realized that I hit the right day as among the 17 items in this year’s list of topics, items 12 and 13 were scheduled to start on Monday. These are SPACE AND WATER and SPACE AND CLIMATE CHANGE. The way this works is that innitial presentations are made and then in following days further countries can speak to the issue.

As it happened, the Russian Republic opened the topic of Space and Water, then Indonesia moved on mentioning the 2005-2015 “Water for Life” decade and its connection to Climate Change with the strong statement that we need water not only for drinking but for energy, in climate change issues etc. It is systems like Landsat that provide most needed information. The sharing of data is important and he suggested the continuation of the “Space and Water” topic in future years meetings of  COPUOS.

Saudi Arabia added on the multi-National aspect of  the “Water for Life” decade and called for more satellites to be used in the better management of water resources – something of high interest in desert and semi-desert counties like his. He wanted the UN Spider to get and distribute the data. He also pointed out the invitation for nominations to the 2014 6th yearly Award of the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water.

On topic #13 Space and Climate Change – opened Japan by pointing out climate Change is a cross-borders issue involving deeveloped and developing countries. Concerning contributions by earth Observation Satellites Japan has played a role in observation of Green-House Gasses, on Water etc. He spoke of the G-20 Agriculture Ministers meeting in France and a follow up meeting in Tokyo with an eye to Rio+20. Measuring GHG from Space was agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol, he said. The GOSAT and GAICHI are monitoring forest biomass. Japan will cooperate with organizations like UNESCO. In 2013 they will have another satellite to exchange information with NASA. The state of growth of grain is a target of agriculture data to review future food supply. He ended by saying no matter how small this committee can make big contribution to the issues that Rio+20 is dealing.

Italy continued on Energy and sustainable dynamics issues. I guess he wanted to accentuate topics beyond development.

Indonesia pointed out that adaptation to climate change by people depends on information from outer space. Indonesia depends on information from the Asia-Pacific region on issues like forest fires.

Switzerland talked about a data base they house at the University of Bern. It has al the information from the satellites since 1964 and supplemented this with data they got from other sources, like hospitals he said, for before that time. As such – they have data for a 100 years.

These presentations were followed upon with two technical presentations: one by Germany talking of Safe Navigation and defining distances for terms like Accuracy vs. Precision in Applicable, Tolerable and non-Tolerable areas and relating this to systms like GPS (since 1963) in the US and Glonass (since 1996) in Russia. All this as outcome from Global Positioning.

Then Marianna G. Shepherd spoke for the Scientific Committee on Solar Terrestrial Physics that was established by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its implications for the World Meteorologic Organization and looking to Rio.

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