UN space office seeks consensus on space traffic management
SAN FRANCISCO – The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs is poised to assist the international community in tackling the challenges posed by an increasingly diverse set of actors launching and operating spacecraft.
“There is a huge need to stabilize global space operations through norm generation and multilateral consensus,” Simonetta di Pippo, director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, said Sept. 7 at the Satellite 2021 conference. “We must future-proof activities now to deliver a safe, secure and sustainable space environment for tomorrow.”
The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) has 95 member states. Another five have submitted applications that are expected to be approved later this year by the UN General Assembly, di Pippo said.
Although COPUOS still has a long way to go to bring in all 193 UN member states, it can serve as a forum for discussions of space traffic management.
“We all know the need for a consolidated coordination and operational mechanism,” di Pippo said. “The Office for Outer Space Affairs can help raise awareness on this issue, showcase innovation and help develop solutions.”
In 2019, COPUOS approved 21 guidelines for the long-term sustainability of space. The long-term sustainability guidelines provide “a solid foundation on which to build further action,” di Pippo said.
Many nations beyond the traditional space powers are recognizing the importance of space for scientific discovery, technological advancement and economic opportunities.
“Space is becoming more and more important for decision and policymakers at different levels and with different backgrounds,” di Pippo said. “It is another testament of the increasing diversification and expansion of the space domain.”
Unprecedented growth in the number of objects reaching orbit and the diversity of organizations operating satellites and relying on their data streams “presents opportunities but also risks,” di Pippo said.
Some of the risks and opportunities will be discussed in December when the Office for Outer Space Affairs hosts the virtual World Space Forum. Government, commercial and nonprofit organizations will discuss space technologies in an effort to “raise awareness and ensure all stakeholders have a voice,” di Pippo said.
In her Satellite 2021 speech, di Pippo also discussed the important role space systems play in monitoring climate change.
“Climate science is one of the biggest beneficiaries of our ability to monitor the earth in almost real time,” di Pippo said. “More than half of the 54 essential climate variables can only be monitored from space. Without space, we will essentially be blind to the climate emergency. “
An Office of Outer Space initiative, called Space 4 Climate Action, is aimed at promoting efforts to help local, national and international organizations monitor and understand Earth’s climate.
“We need to develop more tools and more access to these tools to help countries and actors prepare for and address the climate crisis,” di Pippo said. “Let me take this opportunity to invite all of you to get in touch with us if you are interested in cooperating to save our planet.”