PARIS — The proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities is viewed by many nations as cover for a Western attempt to corral developing countries’ space ambitions, an Indian think tank has concluded.

That perception, plus the squabbling between the United States and Europe over the code’s content, could scuttle attempts to promote common standards for space operations, according to Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Dehli.

Originally drafted by the European Union (EU), the code, currently undergoing revision, is designed to include all spacefaring nations. But the lack of formal consultations on its contents has undermined its credibility, Rajagopalan said Sept. 13 during a space policy conference in Brussels organized by the Secure World Foundation of the United States and France’s IFRI Space Policy Program.

“A sizable number of nations believe the EU code is a Western ploy to limit the activities of other spacefaring countries, including India,” Rajagopalan said, adding that established space powers’ judgment about space conduct violations “has not been credible.”

The European Union and the United States have been discussing the proposed code for more than two years. U.S. State and Defense department officials have issued occasionally contradictory statements about the U.S. willingness to adopt the nonbinding code.

The State Department earlier this year said the U.S. position is favorable to such a code so long as it does not impinge on U.S. space activities related to national security.

Rajagopalan said India has some $2.3 billion in assets already in orbit, a figure that rises to $37 billion when related ground infrastructure and value-added services are included. Protection of these assets is “a major challenge” that should push India toward supporting the code.

But the fact that the code is nonbinding and has no enforcement mechanism, she said, undermines its effectiveness, as does its request that nations provide information on their military activities.

As debate about the code continues, a series of efforts heading in the same general direction are moving forward. Major commercial satellite fleet operators have created a Space Data Association that pools information in the interest of preventing unintentional signal interference or physical collisions between telecommunications satellites.

Nations active in launching satellites, including India, have joined together to create the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee to limit the amount of debris that remains in popular orbits for long periods.



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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.