Discusses Space-system Based Telemedicine and Disaster Management

VIENNA, 7 March (UN Information Service) — Space-system based disaster management support was one of the key agenda items of the 42nd session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), held in Vienna from 21 February to 4 March 2005.

Other topics of discussion included space-system-based telemedicine, the use of nuclear power sources in outer space, measures for reducing space debris created by space missions, as well as the risk posed by near-Earth objects.

The Subcommittee also discussed matters relating to remote sensing of the Earth by satellites, including applications for developing countries and monitoring of the Earth’s environment and continued its discussion on the implementation of the recommendations of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III).

During the first two afternoons of the Subcommittee session, a symposium was held on the topic of high-resolution and hyperspectral satellite data integration for precision farming, environmental monitoring and possible new applications. The symposium was co-organized by the Committee on Space Research and the International Astronautical Federation.

A new topic of discussion was the International Geophysical and Heliophysical Year in 2007. This will be a major international event, involving the deployment of new space instrumentation, new observations from the ground and in space, as well as educational initiatives. It will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year, which involved about 60,000 scientists from 66 countries, working at thousands of stations around the world to obtain simultaneous, global observations from the ground and space.

Member States reviewed the activities of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications in 2004 and approved the planned activities for 2005. The Programme, implemented by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, works to improve the use of space science and technology for the economic and social development of all nations, in particular developing countries. Within the framework of the Programme, the Office conducts training courses, workshops, seminars and other activities on applications and capacity-building in areas like remote sensing, satellite communications, satellite meteorology, search and rescue, basic space science, satellite navigation and space law.

Space-system-based Disaster Management

As part of a new, multi-year work plan, the Subcommittee discussed the topic of space-system-based disaster management. Delegates were briefed on how space-based technologies contributed to relief efforts following the Asian tsunami disaster of 2004. Data and information from a number of Earth observation and meteorological satellites, including high-resolution satellite imagery, were utilized by relief and disaster response agencies in the aftermath of the catastrophe. Emergency satellite-based communications were crucial in saving lives and reducing human suffering by establishing remote medical services. The Subcommittee also approved the terms of reference of an ad hoc group of experts to develop a study on the possibility of creating an international space coordination entity to support disaster management. This was the main recommendation of the Action Team on Disaster Management, established by COPUOS in 2001, under the co-chairmanship of Canada, China and France.

Space-system-based telemedicine

The Subcommittee discussed space-system-based telemedicine under a multi-year work plan. Member States were briefed on the application of telemedicine in health care, and its benefits for epidemiology, off-site radiology services, cardiac monitoring, medical consultations and specialist referrals, correctional care and tele-education in healthcare. The Subcommittee noted that space-system-based telemedicine could provide significantly improved and cost-effective access to quality health care, transform the delivery of health care and improve the health of millions of people throughout the world.

Space debris

The Subcommittee agreed to develop a document on space debris mitigation according to a new multi-year work plan. The Subcommittee also agreed that Member States should pay more attention to the problem of the collision of space objects with space debris, including those with nuclear power sources on board. The Subcommittee agreed that Member States and space agencies should once again be invited to provide reports on research on space debris, safety of space objects with nuclear power sources on board and problems relating to their collision with space debris.

Nuclear power sources

The Subcommittee continued its review of the use of nuclear power sources in outer space. The Subcommittee, through its Working Group on the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space, agreed on the possibility of holding a joint technical workshop, during the 2006 session of the Subcommittee, with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the objective, scope and general attributes of a potential technical safety standard for nuclear power sources in outer space.

Near-Earth objects

The Subcommittee considered a new agenda item on the topic of near-Earth objects, under a multi-year work plan. Near-Earth objects include celestial bodies like asteroids and meteors, which may pass the Earth’s orbit. The Subcommittee noted that although the probability for collision of near-Earth objects with the Earth was very low, near-Earth objects nonetheless posed a potential threat to the Earth. The Subcommittee noted that, given sufficient warning time, countermeasures to either fragment or deflect an incoming near-Earth object were possible. Such activities, however, would require a large and coordinated international effort.


The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, like COPUOS, its parent committee, has the following 67 Member States: Albania, Algeria, 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, Libya, 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, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Viet Nam.

The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) was set up by the United Nations General Assembly in 1959 to review the scope of international cooperation in the 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. COPUOS and its two Subcommittees each meet annually to consider issues 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.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) implements the decisions of the General Assembly and of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its two Subcommittees, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee. The Office is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, and assisting developing countries in using space science and technology. Located in Vienna, Austria, OOSA maintains a website at http://www.unoosa.org/.

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