UN COPUOS Working Group on Space Sustainability Concludes its Work with Agreement on 21 Guidelines

Thursday, August 2, 2018

In 2010, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) established a Working Group on the Long Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities. The Working Group was tasked with producing a set of voluntary guidelines for all space actors to help ensure the long-term sustainable use of outer space. The Working Group’s mandate ended in June 2018 at the recently concluded 61st session of UN COPUOS. During its mandate, the Working Group agreed on 21 guidelines and a context-setting preambular text that included the following definition of space sustainability:

The long-term sustainability of outer space activities is defined as the ability to maintain the conduct of space activities indefinitely into the future in a manner that realizes the objectives of equitable access to the benefits of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes, in order to meet the needs of the present generations while preserving the outer space environment for future generations.

The Working Group examined the long-term sustainability of space activities within the broader context of sustainable development on Earth; considered current practices, operating procedures, technical standards, and policies relevant to space sustainability and safety; and took as its legal framework the existing UN treaties and principles governing space activities.

States and intergovernmental organizations with permanent observer status at COPUOS nominated experts to serve on the four expert groups as a part of their official delegation. Secure World Foundation staff served in each of the four expert groups.

The 21 agreed guidelines comprise a collection of internationally recognized measures for ensuring the long-term sustainability of outer space activities and for enhancing the safety of space operations. They address the policy, regulatory, operational, safety, scientific, technical, international cooperation, and capacity-building aspects of space activities. They are based on a substantial body of knowledge, as well as the experiences of States, international intergovernmental organizations and relevant national and international non-governmental entities. Therefore, the guidelines are relevant to both governmental and non-governmental entities. They are also relevant to all space activities, whether planned or ongoing, as practicable, and to all phases of a space mission, including launch, operation, and end-of-life disposal.

The guidelines are voluntary and not legally binding under international law. They are intended to support the development of national and international practices and safety frameworks for conducting outer space activities while allowing for flexibility in adapting such practices and frameworks to specific national circumstances.

Although the Working Group has concluded its mandate, COPUOS will continue to consider space sustainability under a dedicated agenda item of its Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, which will meet again in February 2019.

For a more detailed description of the COPUOS process and the guidelines, refer to the SWF Fact Sheet on the UN COPUOS Guidelines on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities.

Last updated on August 3, 2018