The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), has produced five treaties that incorporate various aspects of space exploration, the first being the 1966 'Outer Space Treaty'. All these represent a significant achievement in addressing the issues linked to space exploration although adherence to the provisions of the treaties is not total.

The 38th session of the Legal Subcommittee which is one of two subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) took place in Vienna from March 1 to March 5, 1999. During that meeting, the Subcommittee continued its efforts to improve acceptance, implementation and strict observance of the five International Treaties. It is currently in its second year of a three-year review of their status. To conclude its work successfully, the Subcommittee set up a working group which had the task of considering possible measures that would help achieve the widest and fullest adherence to these treaties.

In order to fulfill its goal, the Working Group agreed on recommendations that aim to increase the effectiveness of international space law by motivating States which have not yet become signatories of the Treaties, to do so. The Subcommittee asked countries which are already signatories to ensure greater compliance.

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At the forty-second session (14-16 July 1999) of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee will submit its report on its three year investigation into the issue of space debris. This report will also be made available at UNISPACE III. Ground-based optical and radar surveillance systems around the world have detected more than 8500 objects that could be classified as 'space debris'. These are old or out-of-order satellites and fragments of man-made origin. The number of these objects in the geostationary orbit and low Earth has been rising at a steady rate for the past several decades.

However, significant scientific progress has been made in pinpointing, tracking measuring and in modelling the space debris environment. The Committee will report on suggestions for ways of dealing with space debris and the dangers of collision. The main concern is how to prevent the creation of new space debris. Most spacefaring nations voluntarily adopted measures to prevent in-orbit explosions of the upper rocket stages and shorten their orbital lifetime.The aim of the deliberations at the UN is to coordinate the mitigation of space debris so that the future of space activities is not hampered.

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General Assembly resolution 51/122 confirmed Member States determination that space be used for the benefit of all countries. Furthermore, with the rapid development of space technology all spacefaring nations recognise the importance of identifying common goals, thus optimizing existing resources, pooling knowledge and working together.

There is a need to strengthen existing bilateral and multilateral programmes, including 'know-how' projects that increase developing countries confidence and expertise in space technology. The results of UNISPACE III will strengthen future international cooperation so that, among other results, smaller, developing nations can build an adequate scientific and educational base for sustainable technology and application programmes. Following UNISPACE III, the UN will look at establishing partnerships with private industry, to implement some of the recommendations contained in its Plan of Action. This intention is reflected in the participation of private industry at Conference.

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The General Assembly adopted the Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space in December 1992. These Principles provide guidelines for the safe use of nuclear power sources which are needed for deep space satellite missions. In 1998 the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee endorsed a four-year work plan and a proposed schedule of work, to be taken up by the Working Group, for developing a framework for safety assurance processes and standards for nuclear power sources in outer space. Member States and organizations will be invited to contribute towards a safety and standards framework by submitting information relevant to nuclear power sources. The Working Group will prepare its report in 2002.


Access to effective communications is a crucial part of bridging the 'information gap' between the industrial nations and emerging economies. Developing nations need broadcast signals and telephony to help them receive the information to build local infrastructure and to facilitate contact with the wider world. Using communications satellites is cheaper and less complicated than, for instance, fibre optics. However, certain action programmes need to be undertaken, for instance, the promotion of the establishment of legislative and regulatory frameworks to facilitate investment in the private sector.  Furthermore, developing countries require expert assistance in assessing their communications needs and educational programmes have to be set in place to facilitate local knowledge and expertise.

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UNISPACE III will be examining these and other issues that affect all our futures.