VIENNA, 23 February (UN Information Service) – The adoption of the Safety Framework for Nuclear Power Source Applications in Outer Space was in the focus of the 46th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), which took place in Vienna, Austria, from 9 to 20 February 2008. The threat of near-Earth object impact and space debris mitigation were also key agenda items.

Other topics of discussion included a review of the implementation of the recommendations of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III), space-system-based disaster management support, recent developments in Global Navigation Satellite Systems, the use of the geostationary orbit, International Heliophysical Year and matters related to remote sensing of the Earth by satellites, including applications for developing countries and monitoring of the Earth’s environment. On the first day of the session, a symposium was held on the role of earth observation satellites in promoting understanding of and addressing climate change concerns.

Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space

The Joint Expert Group, established by the Subcommittee and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) met during this session of the Subcommittee to finalize the draft Safety Framework for Nuclear Power Source Applications In Outer Space, which was then adopted. The Safety Framework will now be transmitted to the IAEA Secretariat for consideration and agreement by the IAEA Commission on Safety Standards during its meeting to be held in Vienna from 22 to 24 April 2009.

Near-Earth objects

Potential dangers from near-Earth objects (NEOs) and international response to the threat of NEO impact were considered by the Subcommittee. The Subcommittee considered reports from Member States and international organizations on their NEO activities, including space missions, search for NEOs and their tracking, as well as plans for future activities. The draft proposal of the Action Team on NEOs for NEO threat mitigation was discussed, and the Subcommittee decided that more work would be done intersessionally to develop draft recommendations for the international response to the threat of NEO impacts, to be presented for the Subcommittee’s consideration at its forty-seventh session in 2010.

Space Debris

The Subcommittee considered information received from Member States on national research on space debris, the safety of space objects with nuclear power sources on board and problems relating to their collision with space debris. Some States were implementing space debris mitigation measures consistent with the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and/or the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, while other States had developed their own space debris mitigation standards based on those guidelines. The Subcommittee agreed that Member States, in particular space-faring countries, should pay greater attention to the problem of collisions of space objects, including those with nuclear power sources (NPS) on board, with space debris and to other aspects of space debris, including its re-entry into the atmosphere.

It was noted that a collision involving an active commercial Iridium 33 satellite and an inactive Cosmos-2251 satellite had occurred in low-Earth orbit (LEO) on 10 February 2009. The Subcommittee was informed that the Space Surveillance Network of the United States was tracking about 700 pieces of space debris in two separate clouds that had resulted from that collision.

Space-System-Based Disaster Management Support

The Subcommittee heard the report on the implementation of the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER) activities for 2008 as well as other initiatives and long-term activities of various Member States and space agencies in the area of disaster management. The UN-SPIDER programme, which is implemented by UNOOSA, is coordinating the establishment of a network of regional support offices in Algeria, Iran, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa and Ukraine.

Recent developments in global navigation satellite systems

Under this new regular agenda item, the Subcommittee considered latest developments in the field of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and the benefits that the use of GNSS brings to the world’s economies and societies. It was noted with appreciation that the International Committee on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (ICG) had been established on a voluntary basis as a forum to promote cooperation in civil satellite-based positioning, navigation, timing and value-added services, as well as the compatibility and interoperability of global navigation satellite systems. The ICG decided that the regional centres for space science and technology education, affiliated to the United Nations, would act as ICG information centres.

United Nations Programme on Space Applications

Member States also reviewed the activities of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications in 2008 and the activities planned for this year. Within the Programme on Space Applications, UNOOSA plans to organize several workshops in 2009, aimed at disseminating knowledge of how to bring the benefits of space technology to everyone. The topics of workshops include: satellite-aided search and rescue; applications of global navigation satellite systems; small satellite technologies for developing countries; the use of space technology for analysing and predicting climate change; integrated space technology applications for sustainable development in the mountain areas; basic space science and space law. The Programme works to improve the use of space science and technology for the economic and social development of all nations, in particular developing countries.

International Heliophysical Year 2007

The Subcommittee concluded its consideration of agenda item on International Heliophysical Year and agreed to consider, beginning at its forty-seventh session, a new agenda item entitled “International Space Weather Initiative” under a three-year workplan. Aside from bright auroras, there are damaging effects of space weather, which could adversely affect our societal infrastructure that depends on satellites, electrical power and communication. As society’s reliance on technological systems grows, so does our vulnerability to space weather.


The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, like COPUOS, its parent committee, has the following 69 Member States: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Bolivia, 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, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Viet Nam.

The following intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations have permanent observer status with COPUOS: African Organization of Cartography and Remote Sensing, Association of Space Explorers, Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, Committee on Space Research, Regional Centre for Remote Sensing of the North African States, Eurisy, European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, European Space Agency, European Space Policy Institute, European Telecommunications Satellite Organization, International Academy of Astronautics, International Astronautical Federation, International Astronomical Union, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, International Institute of Space Law, International Law Association, International Mobile Satellite Organization, Intersputnik International Organization of Space Communications, International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, International Space University, National Space Society, Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water, Secure World Foundation, Space Generation Advisory Council, Spaceweek International Association and The Planetary Society.


The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) was set up by the 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 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.

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

* *** *

For further information, please contact:

Jamshid Gaziyev
Associate Programme Officer, UNOOSA
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-4958