The Committee in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS)
The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) was set up by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1959 to review the scope of international cooperation in 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.
History of the Committee in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS)
In 1958, soon after the first artificial satellite Sputnik was launched, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) decided, in its Resolution 1348 (XIII), to create the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).
In 1959, the General Assembly decided to establish the Committee as a permanent body and reaffirmed its mandate in Resolution 1472 (XIV). In 1962, the General Assembly affirmed that the United Nations were to coordinate international cooperation in the exploring and pacific use of space; in this perspective, it adopted Resolution 1721 (XVI) requesting the Committee, in cooperation with the UN Secretary-General and fully relying on the Secretariat’s resources, to:
Maintain a close relationship with governmental and non-governmental organisations in the field of space affairs
Enable the exchange of information related to space activities, provided by governments on a voluntary basis, by increasing – but without redundancy – technical and scientific exchanges
Provide an assistance to study the measures that are or could be undertaken to promote cooperation in spatial activities. This resolution also asked the Secretariat to keep a public record of launches, based on the information provided by the States who launched objects in orbit or beyond. This record has been created and is managed by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) within the United Nations Office in Vienna (UNOV). Ever since, these terms of reference have been the basis of the general orientation of the Committee’s activities.
In 1959, the Committee was launched by 24 Member States. It has considerably expanded since then and now comprises 86 74 Members, which makes it one of the largest United Nations Committees. In addition to the Member States, several International Organisations, both governmental and non-governmental, have an observer status in the COPUOS and its subcommittees. In particular, the European Union is an ad hoc observer.
Mission of the Committee
The Committee’s tasks are:
Reviewing international cooperation regarding outer space under various aspects, such as disaster prevention, restricting debris in space or studying space technology applications in the field of climate change;
Managing programmes under the auspices of the United Nations, such as the United Nations Platform for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UNISPIDER);
Encouraging research and information sharing in the field of outer space;
Ensuring the respect of the international legal framework for outer space (cf. conventions below) and its implementation within national legislations, and discussing legal problems related to pacific outer space exploration.
Structure of the Committee
The Committee comprises the plenary committee, which meets once a year in Vienna for a ten-day session, and two subcommittees: the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STSC) and the Legal Subcommittee. The Committee and both subcommittees meet once a year to reflect on the issues raised by the United Nations General Assembly, on the reports submitted to them or on problems brought to their attention by Member States. The Committee and its subcommittees, which rely on the principle of consensus, suggest recommendations to the United Nations General Assembly (in particular its fourth Commission) and publish yearly reports providing detailed information on their activities.
Office for Outer Space Affairs
The secretariat of the Committee is provided by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), whose Director is Ms. Simonetta Di Pippo, of Italy. It is a part of the Secretariat General of the United Nations.
The Office comprises two main divisions:
A division in charge of practical applications of space technology (Space Applications Section)
A division responsible for international cooperation and for the Committee’s activities (Committee Services and Research Section).