U.N. Group of Experts Agrees On Space Sustainability Steps

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In what U.S. State Department officials hailed as a “landmark consensus,” a diverse group of countries, including China and Russia, have agreed in principle to recommend a series of voluntary steps designed to ensure safety and sustainability in space.

The U.N. Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities, which includes representatives of 15 countries, met in New York in mid-July to discuss ways in which they can cooperate to sustain the increasingly fragile space environment. The group’s report is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

In addition to agreeing to promote measures to improve transparency and international cooperation, the group “endorsed efforts to pursue political commitments — including a multilateral code of conduct — to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, outer space,” a July 18 State Department press release said. “All U.N. member states share a common commitment to the pursuit of peace and security.”

At a reception in Washington July 24, Frank Rose, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, said the consensus is encouraging. 

The group of countries includes  China, which created an international outcry — along with thousands of pieces of space debris — with an anti-satellite test it conducted in 2007. Rose said the United States’ dialogue with China has improved in the past 12 months.

“We’re at the very early stages,” Rose said. “Bilaterally, are we where we need to be?  I think the answer is no.”