Reducing risks from space debris or near-Earth objects such as meteors, space-based disaster management through satellites, and space-based telemedicine for monitoring diseases such as bird flu or malaria figured high on the agenda of a two-week United Nations scientific meeting that has just ended.
The 43rd session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), held in Vienna from 20 February to 3 March, also considered the use of nuclear power sources in outer space and reviewed implementation of the recommendations of the Third UN Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
The Subcommittee also discussed matters related to remote sensing of Earth by satellites, including applications for developing countries and monitoring of Earth’s environment.
The panel’s Working Group on Space Debris reached consensus on the text of draft space debris mitigation guidelines to be circulated at the national level for consent for approval at the 44th session next year. The guidelines, should they be adopted, would be implemented voluntarily and through national mechanisms, and would not be legally binding under international law.
On disaster management the Subcommittee held a workshop involving communication and meteorological satellite operators. It also considered the use of nuclear power sources in outer space under a multi-year work plan, including a potential technical safety framework.
On Telemedicine it heard presentations on bilateral or multilateral projects to develop further space-based applications to monitor outbreaks of avian flu, Chagas’ disease, malaria and yellow fever, among others. The Subcommittee urged Member States to continue to cooperative in developing countries in order to bring them better health-care services.
On near-Earth objects the Subcommittee stressed that early detection and precision of asteroids and meteors that may cross Earth’s orbit were the most effective tools for avoiding a collision, noting that any mitigating measures would require coordinated international efforts.
COPUOS was set up by the General Assembly in 1959 to review the scope of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programmes to be undertaken under UN auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space.