U.S. Statement on Outer Space
October 9, 2002
Statement by Kenneth Hodgkins, United States Adviser to the Fifty-seventh Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Mr. Chairman, for the past four decades, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) has recorded a number of significant achievements in promoting international space cooperation. Today, there is an unprecedented level of international cooperation in space. The number of nations investing in space activities has steadily grown, and we now have a significant private sector presence in outer space.
There is no scarcity of multilateral mechanisms where disarmament matters can and are appropriately being discussed. COPUOS is not and should not be one of them. It was not created to deal with disarmament. Over four decades ago the United States and nineteen other states submitted Resolution 1348, which established the Ad Hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The resolution marked a significant step forward for the world community in that it established COPUOS as the only standing body of the General Assembly to consider international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. At that time, COPUOS was established as the body of the General Assembly concerned exclusively with promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of space. It was clear that there would be parallel efforts to deal with the disarmament aspects of outer space. These would include fora such as the First Committee of the General Assembly and the Conference on Disarmament.
The Committee has played a notable role in advancing space cooperation and provides a unique opportunity for the exchange of information among developed and developing countries on the latest developments in the use and exploration of outer space. In our view there are tangible opportunities to enhance international cooperation in keeping with the Committee's mandate.
The last sessions of COPUOS and its subcommittees are a case in point. Allow me at this stage to congratulate Amb. Raimundo Gonzalez, chair of COPUOS, Dr. Karl Doetsch, chair of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and Prof. Vladmir Kopal, chair of the Legal Subcommittee, for their superb leadership over the past year. In addition, my delegation commends the extensive work of the Office for Outer Space Affairs in supporting the Committee and its subcommittees.
Mr. Chairman, once again the agenda of COPUOS produced useful results on a number of important topics. We were particularly encouraged by the substantial progress that has been made in the work of the UNISPACE III Action Teams and look forward to the Committee's further consideration of what can be done to implement the recommendations of UNISPACE III. There was an extremely interesting exchange of views on the spin-off benefits of space exploration and on strengthening the role of COPUOS in promoting international cooperation so as to ensure that outer space is maintained for peaceful purposes. My delegation is pleased to note the Committee considered this year a new item dealing with space and society. This item was adopted last year on the basis of a proposal by my delegation and the delegations of Austria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Nigeria, Peru, and Turkey. This was an excellent opportunity for delegations to share information on national and international efforts to demonstrate to the general public how space activities could enrich their daily lives.
Mr. Chairman, my delegation is pleased to note that the Committee considered international cooperation in satellite-aided search and rescue. Specifically, we heard about the latest developments in the COSPAS-SARSAT program - a cooperative venture among the U.S., Canada, France and Russia initiated in the late 1970's. Despite the intense rivalries of the Cold War, experts from these four countries worked tirelessly to achieve one goal; that is, using space technology to assist aviators and mariners in distress around the world.
Using the existing space platforms of Russia and the U.S. and space qualified hardware provided by France and Canada, the COSPAS-SARSAT program provides alert and position location notifications for people in emergency situations in remote areas. This year marks the 20th anniversary of COSPAS-SARSAT. Over this period, COSPAS-SARSAT has defined the technical characteristics of emergency beacons to help ensure the use of one common standard worldwide. COSPAS-SARSAT has expanded the space segment to include instruments in geostationary orbits that now provide almost instantaneous alerting, and has expanded its participation to 34 countries in all regions of the world. The COSPAS-SARSAT system has assisted in the rescue of over 13,000 persons since its initial operation in 1982.
The last session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee was equally productive. We note in particular the success of the Working Group on nuclear power sources in space. It reached agreement on a report providing key information on the differences between terrestrial and space nuclear systems; potentially relevant international conventions, standards and other documents; launch approval processes for space nuclear systems; and potential future applications of this technology. These are points that delegations need to take into account as we move to the final year of the multi-year work plan in which the Committee is to determine whether or not to take any additional steps concerning the information in the report of the Working Group.
Another priority topic for my delegation is the subject of space debris. We are pleased to note that the Inter-Agency Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) has reached consensus among its delegates on proposed debris mitigation guidelines, and should receive final approval from its Steering Committee this month. We look forward to a presentation by the IADC of its proposed guidelines to the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee in 2003.
This is a very important step in gaining a broader agreement on what technical measures should be taken by space-faring nations to ensure the preservation of near-Earth space for future generations.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Legal Subcommittee, which first met in May 1962. I would like to mention the extraordinary record of success this Subcommittee has had in advancing the field of space law. Much of the success is due to the Subcommittee's ability to focus on practical problems and to seek to address any such problems through a consensus-based and results-oriented process.
Since its first session, the Legal Subcommittee has formulated and adopted five major outer space treaties and several sets of international principles, producing a new branch of international law at a pace second to none. These treaties and principles provide the foundation for the orderly use of outer space for the benefit of all countries.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to call to your attention that the year 2002 also marks the 35th anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies and the 30th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects. The Outer Space Treaty was in many ways the foundation of the now well-established field of space law and it set the framework and cooperative tone for tremendous technological progress in outer space activities. In no small part, these accomplishments can be attributed to the role of COPUOS and its Legal Subcommittee. Under this legal regime, space exploration by nations, international organizations and, now, private entities has flourished. As a result, space technology and services contribute immeasurably to economic growth and improvements in the quality of life around the world. The Outer Space Treaty has truly stood the test of time; its provisions remain as relevant and important today as they did at the inception of space exploration.
The Liability Convention established a balance between the interests and obligations of all States. It defines the circumstances in which a launching State bears liability to pay compensation for certain damage caused by its space objects. The Convention is victim-oriented, employing a broad definition of the term "launching State" in order to maximize potential for recovery by injured parties. It also establishes a reasonable expectation of prompt payment and fair compensation in the event of damage caused by space objects.
The results of the last session of the Legal Subcommittee were highly encouraging. Substantial progress was made on a number of fronts. This year the Subcommittee completed the multi-year work plan considering the concept of the launching State. My delegation would like to commend the Chairman of the Working Group under this item, Kai-Uwe Schrogl, for his outstanding performance in leading these deliberations. We would also like to congratulate the Secretariat for its efforts in compiling the excellent report on State practice in applying the concept of the launching State, the identification of issues regarding that concept and the elements that could be included in national space legislation and licensing regimes (A/AC.105/768). Consideration of this item yielded highly interesting results, and we agree with the Subcommittee's view that the working group has been a good example of how to make efficient use of the possibilities provided by the new agenda structure.
Another promising development was the progress made in considering the possibility of a Space Assets Protocol to the UNIDROIT Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment. When the Legal Subcommittee began its work 40 years ago, the issues under consideration primarily concerned State-conducted or State-procured outer space activities. Today, the landscape is considerably different, as the past decade has seen a tremendous rise in commercial use of outer space. The level of interest in a Space Assets Protocol is indicative of the importance that private activities now hold for the future development of outer space activities and the need to facilitate the establishment of adequate financing mechanisms for such activities.
Finally Mr. Chairman, at the last session of the Subcommittee we underscored the view that we must all focus on our domestic implementation of the outer space treaties. The Convention on the Registration of Space Objects Launched into Outer Space provides that a launching State shall include a space object on its national registry. In that regard, I would like to share with you some steps that the United States is taking with respect to this Convention. During the past year, the United States has been engaged in a process of upgrading the U.S. national registry of space objects so it is accessible on the Internet and can be updated electronically. As part of that process, we have undertaken to clarify the domestic criteria for including objects on the U.S. Registry. This is intended to ensure that U.S. owners/operators of space objects and non-U.S. entities have a clear understanding as to the circumstances under which space objects are and are not registered by the United States. We intend to include on the U.S. registry all space objects that are owned or operated by U.S. private or governmental entities whether launched from inside or outside U.S. territory. In general, the United States will not include on its registry non-U.S. payloads that are launched from U.S. territory or facilities. It is our view that such non-U.S. payloads should be included on the registry of the State of the payload's owner/operator because that State is best positioned to exercise jurisdiction and control. In addition, we will continue our practice of including certain non-functional objects on the U.S. Registry.
We invite other States to undertake a similar clarification of their registration practice. As States clarify and improve their domestic practice, overall international practice will be enhanced and all nations will benefit. The promotion of increased international cooperation in the registration area may be an appropriate activity for the Subcommittee and the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs to undertake.