After eight years of negotiations, the UN has adopted 21 guidelines for peaceful and sustainable outer space activities – with Australia playing an important role in the developing the guidelines.
These non-binding guidelines provide guidance on policy and regulatory framework for space activities; safety of space operations; international co-operation, capacity-building and awareness; and scientific and technical research and development.
Australia played its part, with the new Australian Space Agency participating as part of Australia’s delegation at the recent meetings of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).
Although non-binding, the guidelines set basic principles for use of space at a time when barriers to entry are lower than ever and more and more nations are participating in space activities.
This is the result of more than eight years of work by a working group of the committee and of efforts by experts from 92 member states, supported by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).
The committee encourages states and international inter-governmental organisations to voluntarily take measures to ensure that the guidelines are implemented to the greatest extent possible.
The committee should serve as the principal forum for continuing dialogue on issues related to the implementation and review of the guidelines.
The working group’s mandate expired last year but the committee decided to establish a new working group to continue work on long-term sustainability of outer space activities.
"This is a historic moment for the committee. It represents a significant step forward for ensuring the long-term sustainability of space activities, so that present and future generations from all countries can continue to enjoy the benefits of the peaceful exploration and use of outer space," said Peter Martinez, working group chairman.
Amndre Rypl, chairman of the 62nd session of the committee, said it started this session talking about how COPUOS made the impossible possible.
"We have done just that. The guidelines on the long-term sustainability of outer space activities and, more importantly, the decision to move forward and advance the concept of sustainability in space, is probably the most significant achievement of COPUOS in a decade," he said.
Simonetta Di Pippo, UNOOSA director, said, "The office looks forward to continuing its efforts to assist states in capacity-building in space science, technology, law and policy. Ensuring the long-term sustainability of outer space activities forms a key part of this work."
The new guidelines go into considerable detail of what space nations should and shouldn’t do.
“The Earth’s orbital space environment constitutes a finite resource that is being used by an increasing number of states, international inter-governmental organisations and non-governmental entities,” the preamble stated.
“The proliferation of space debris, the increasing complexity of space operations, the emergence of large constellations and the increased risks of collision and interference with the operation of space objects may affect the long-term sustainability of space activities.
“Addressing these developments and risks requires international co-operation by states and international inter-governmental organisations to avoid harm to the space environment and the safety of space operations.”
The guidelines cover a wide range of issues. Nations should adopt national regulatory regimes supervise space activities on their territory. Nations should also share information on their space objects and orbital events, register their space objects, minimise space debris and ensure equitable and efficient use of radio spectrum.
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