Insight - SWF's Latest Publication: The COPUOS Briefing Book

Friday, July 7, 2023

For a week and a half in May and June of this year, the 2023 session of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) was held at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria. COPUOS Member states made statements under multiple agenda items, including Ways and means of maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes, Space and sustainable development, Space and water, and Space and climate change. The Working Group on the Legal Aspects of Space Resource Activities met, as did the Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities. New intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations were admitted as observers to the Committee, and the reports of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee were received and accepted. Eighteen separate side events further rounded out the already busy schedule of attendees. 

Amidst the busy work of this annual plenary session of the Committee, Secure World Foundation hosted a side event during lunchtime on June 7, 2023, to distribute copies of our latest publication, the COPUOS Briefing Book.

The COPUOS Briefing Book is a unique publication. It covers the creation of COPUOS, as well as its history, placement in the UN system, membership, leadership, major deliverables and outcomes, and schedule of work. Furthermore, it explains important concepts to COPUOS’ work such as consensus, the rules of procedure, documentation, structure of reports, and the support given to COPUOS from the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. Also detailed are the work of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, the Legal Subcommittee, and the role of Working Groups within COPUOS. 

The publication is scholarly and rigorous, but is intended as a practical resource with useful information to delegates and all those who interact with the central and most important international intergovernmental committee focused on the peaceful uses of outer space. While various journal articles have addressed discrete aspects of COPUOS, this publication is likely the first and only publication of its kind, as it covers COPUOS in a generally holistic fashion. 

The Briefing Book also features introductory guest essays by COPUOS notables Dave Kendall (COPUOS Chair, 2016-2017), Natália Archinard (STSC Chair, 2020-2021), Setsuko Aoki (LSC Chair, 2020-2021), and Peter Martinez (LTS WG Chair, 2010-2018).

Over 200 copies—the entirety of the first printing—were distributed to Member state and observer delegations. This warm reception, as well as the high praise the book has already garnered, speaks both to the need such a publication addresses and to the quality of the document itself. It must also be noted that the COPUOS Briefing Book was expertly researched and drafted by Mr. Michael Friedl, who served as a visiting scholar at our Washington, DC office in the summer of 2022. 

Keeping the book in print for future sessions of COPUOS and its subcommittees will be a goal for SWF going forward. In the meantime, the COPUOS Briefing Book is available for free download here.

Last updated on July 7, 2023