The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, Space Debris, and Spy Satellites


Wissenschaftlicher Aufsatz, 2010
19 Seiten
Anonym

Leseprobe

Table of Contents

1. Background

2. Achievements of UNOOSA and Inherent Flaws
2.1 Civil Outer Space Missions
2.2 Commercial Outer Space Flights

3. Results of the Shortcomings of the UNOOSA
3.1 Civil Outer Space Missions
3.1.1 Results of Orbital Debris Surveillance by the United States only
3.1.2 Results of a Lack of Binding Legal Jurisdiction
3.2 Commercial Outer Space Flights

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Background

In outer space national borders do not exist.[1] To avoid warfare in space it was decided by the United Nations General Assembly to establish an ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in 1958 which was one year later turned into a permanent body.[2] The number of founding member states rose from eighteen in 1958 to sixty-nine today,[3] which makes it one of the largest committees of the United Nations.[4] The 1958 initially created expert unit, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) based in Vienna, has become the Secretariat of COPUOS after some structural changes,[5] ‘and implements the recommendations of the Committee and the United Nations General Assembly.’[6]

Both the Committee and the Secretariat were established only one year after the Soviet Union launched successfully the first human-made object to outer space, a satellite named Sputnik 1.[7] People and governments were afraid that this could take Cold War to another stage and therefore the focus was on international cooperation rather than escalation. While on earth the establishing of COPUOS and UNOOSA were believed to contribute to peace in outer space, Sputnik 1 was the first element in paving the way for future political tensions. It was not just the first artificial object in outer space, but also became the first orbital/space debris,[8] which was back then completely neglected by decision-makers. All man-made objects placed in orbit till 1957, except around 600 satellites currently operating, are accounted as debris:[9] around 19,000 objects larger than 10 centimetres, 500,000 objects measuring from one to 10 centimetres[10] while ‘the number of particles smaller than 1 cm probably exceeds tens of millions.’[11] It is estimated that most of orbital debris even has not been catalogued[12] while about 85 per cent[13] of space debris ‘is to be found … where human space activity is greatest.’[14]

Even small pieces of debris, because of its travelling at high speeds of seven to eight kilometres per second, could be able to cause severe damages, total break downs of satellites or imperil astronauts lives.[15] Experiments conducted on the ISS are playing “a key role for industrial applications built on [space] research”[16] while satellites are essential as they provide a huge range of services like telecommunications, weather forecasting, television broadcasting, global navigation and aviation.[17] Both space stations and satellites are major constituent parts of current and future applications and should therefore be highly protected against space debris.

Moreover, the market for satellites will grow significantly by an estimated 47 per cent of more satellites to be launched from 2008 to 2018 compared to the former decade.[18] A decline in insurance premiums,[19] however, seems to be largely due to the fact that the likelihood of collisions is still estimated very low,[20] for example, a collision between the U.S. space shuttle and a piece of debris larger than 10 centimetres is estimated to happen once every 10,000 years.[21]

Nonetheless, in 2009 a twelve centimetre piece of debris missed the International Space Station (ISS) by only five kilometres.[22] Identified by NASA only one day before it was then too late to perform an evasive manoeuvre.[23] Although the ISS is the most heavily shielded spacecraft ever flown it cannot withstand pieces of debris larger than one centimetre.[24] Even worse is the situation for satellites. Because they are not as heavily shielded a collision with ‘a five cents coin … would have … an impact equal to that of a small car hurtling at 80 km/h.’[25] That a collision is not impossible proved in 2009 the incident between a decommissioned Russian and an active U.S. satellite called Iridium.[26] Ironically the mission of the latter was to determine solutions in order to avoid future collisions;[27] however, together with an anti-satellite test of China two years earlier, discussed in 3.1.2, these incidents increased the overall amount of debris larger than ten centimetres by 50 per cent.[28] In the wake of these events the likelihood for future collisions and subsequently service breakdowns, economic losses and higher insurance premiums, has risen.

Fortunately,debris falls back to earth and, if not too large, burns up in the earth’s atmosphere completely. However, this could last up to some millennia the further away debris is from earth.[29] Although, for example, President Barack Obama announced that there is a ‘need to pursue research … to remove orbital debris,’[30] it remains, at best, a ‘monumental technical, resource, operational, legal, and political challenge,[31] or at worst, makes from a current point of technological knowledge, no sense at all.[32]

All this makes space debris one of the biggest issues for nations that aspire to go to outer space. Manned missions could bear the risk of losing lives while the operating of satellites could bear the risk of (total) damage which subsequently would lead to limited services as well as economic losses. New collisions would increase the number of debris and therefore increase the risk for future missions even further. However, the monitoring of orbital debris, which is larger than three millimetres,[33] reduces the risk of collisions because satellites or space crafts can be drawn aside when space institutions learn of these probable incidents.

One could argue that UNOOSA, from a global governance point of view, should be responsible for debris-related issues because it is an organisation within the United Nations and all states with current programmes or future plans regarding space missions are members of the committee. However, even though debris is a part of UNOOSA’s treaty, reality looks different. Other inter-governmental organisations like the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) have been created outside the auspices of the United Nations to deal with space debris issues. National Organisations like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) work together bilaterally or multilaterally. COPUOS, at the same time, does not possess any information about the position of debris but only the United States. Their surveillance network is under the command of the Department of Defense (DOD).[34] Information is published neither publicly nor completely which leads to several tensions in international relations.[35]

This report will have a look at UNOOSA’s achievements and the flaws inherent to these achievements. In a second step some results of UNOOSA’s shortcomings will be shown in more detail.

It may be owed to the speciality of this topic that virtually no available books and only a few journal articles cover the material. Thus it was necessary to use online sources; however, information is to a large degree used from first hand, for example, space institutions or UNOOSA itself.

2. Achievements of UNOOSA and Inherent Flaws

2.1 Civil Outer Space Missions

UNOOSA’s ‘1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the Outer Space Treaty)’[36] has been ratified by exactly 100 states till today.[37] One could argue that this can be seen as a big success: almost half of all countries have ratified to an international legal framework regarding key principles for outer space activities and adopted it into their national legislations while it is still promoted to non-member states all over the world.

Some articles are free of latitude of judgement when they, for example, demand to keep outer space free from new borders or that outer space is not subject to claims of sovereignty by any means.[38] Also each state party is liable for damage caused to another member state.[39]

However, the treaty contains a lot of shoulds and coulds and therefore the use of the expression ‘soft law,’ in terms of using an indeterminate language in terms of lacking precision and clarity, seems appropriate as it can be used for other international treaties and conventions.[40] For example, all member states recognize that the exploration of space is in ‘the common interest of all mankind’[41] and that it should benefit all people and countries without discrimination.[42] This does not guarantee non-discrimination and least of all that every member of COPUOS benefits from outer space.

The biggest flaw of the Outer Space Treaty seems to be that any practical questions shall be resolved by the state parties themselves.[43] As we will see later some results of this article, this could account for major problems regarding space debris and the lack of ability to solve these issues within the United Nations organisation rather than solving them multi- or even bilaterally.

Not until 1999 space debris became part of the Outer Space Treaty,[44] however, again with the usage of indeterminate language. Active opposition within COPUOS has prevented member states so far to agree on legally enforceable commitments—and makes it very unlikely to agree on them in the foreseeable future.[45] So UNOOSA recommends implementing space debris mitigation measures in each member state,[46] leaving it to national and inter-governmental institutions and organisations how these mitigation guidelines are formulated and by whom they are overseen.

However, the treaty provides a note that a set of mitigation guidelines has been developed by the IADC.[47] This organisation has been established by leading space agencies seven years before UNOOSA even started addressing the problem, and is now the most important stage for all eleven nations and regions with current space programmes in terms of orbital debris.[48] Its ‘main tasks are to exchange information on debris, facilitate cooperation on debris mitigation and propose solutions.’[49] According to the IADC the standardization documents are ‘drafted in negotiation by the eleven agencies.’[50]

The question arises if certain nations prevented an earlier engagement of UNOOSA in order to leave this subject to an organisation outside the United Nations. The wording of IADC’s mitigation measures allows, for example, for anti-satellite space tests,[51] which are contradictory to a peaceful use of outer space promoted by UNOOSA. In contrast, Finkleman argues that ‘almost any satellite can be considered a weapon’[52] as, for example, simple navigation satellites have been used by modern weapons to destroy targets.[53] However, ‘the United States undertook … an effort to achieve a consensus on “STSC [COPUOS Scientific and Technic Subcommittee] Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines.”’[54] Yet they made it (among other things) a condition of their acceptance that IADC guidelines provide the basis and, that these mitigation guidelines ‘remain voluntary and not legally binding under international law.’[55] Although, facing slow political processes, some scientists promote the acceptance of guidelines as the only possible and, moreover, fastest solution to a currently increasing problem,[56] it does not tackle legal and liability problems in any way. Therefore, it could be argued, an institution like the IADC was created to control the decision-making process easier due to fewer members. Also it should be easier to control which nations are allowed to take part as, for example, a veto of the U.S. against new members like Iran seems more than conceivable.

Not only that UNOOSA cannot manage debris to a sufficient level in legal terms, most importantly it does not possess a system which measures debris positions and provides the information freely to all members. The major reason for this should be that a surveillance network contains several different sensors and radars distributed all over the world,[57] is run by many experts and causing high costs. This makes it for an organisation with a lack of territory, permission and sufficiently large (financial) support impossible to erect such a system only by itself. After all UNOOSA cannot force its members to erect a system on their soil.

[...]


[1] Anon, European Security and Space Debris, European Security and Defence Assembly—Assembly of WEU, June 17th 2010, http://www.assembly-weu.org/en/documents/sessions_ordinaires/rpt/2010/2073.php?PHPSESSID=44eed6328b83232221ce0856d93e7d47

[2] Anon, History and Overview of Activities, United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, December 5th 2010, http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/oosa/en/COPUOS/cop_overview.html

[3] Anon, Members, United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, December 5th 2010, http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/oosa/en/COPUOS/members.html

[4] op cit, Anon

[5] Anon, United Nations for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), United Nations for Outer Space Affairs, December 5th 2010, http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/oosa/en/OOSA/index.html

[6] Anon, Frequently Asked Questions, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, December 5th 2010, http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/oosa/en/FAQ/un.html#Q4

[7] Anon, United Nations Programme on Space Applications, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, December 5th 2010, http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/pdf/publications/st_space_52E.pdf

[8] op cit, Anon, Recommendation 863 on European Security and Space Debris

[9] op cit, Anon

[10] Anon, Orbital Debris Frequently Asked Questions, NASA, July 2009, http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/faqs.html#3

[11] op cit, Anon

[12] David, L., Between the Lines: Tossed in Space, Foreign Policy, No. 136 (May-Jun. 2003), p. 68.

[13] Anon, Space Surveillance, Air University—The Intellectual and Leadership Center of the Air Force, December 7th 2010, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/usspc-fs/space.htm

[14] op cit, Anon, Recommendation 863 on European Security and Space Debris

[15] Anon, Orbital Debris Frequently Asked Questions, NASA, July 2009, http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/faqs.html#7

[16] Anon, Taking the ISS to the next level: ISS exploitation and ELIPS, European Space Agency, December 12th 2010, http://www.esa.int/esaHS/SEMFUZ4DHNF_iss_0.html

[17] Mirmina, S.A., Reducing the Proliferation of Orbital Debris: Alternatives to a Legally Binding Instrument, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 99 No. 3 (Jul. 2005), p. 649.

[18] Anon, Highlights in Space 2009, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, January 2010, http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/pdf/publications/st_space_46.pdf

[19] op cit, Anon

[20] Anon, Orbital Debris Frequently Asked Questions, NASA, July 2009, http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/faqs.html#15

[21] op cit, Anon, Space Surveillance

[22] op cit, Anon, Highlights in Space 2009

[23] op cit, Anon, Highlights in Space 2009

[24] Anon, Orbital Debris Frequently Asked Questions, NASA, July 2009, http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/faqs.html#10

[25] op cit, Anon, Recommendation 863 on European Security and Space Debris

[26] op cit, Anon, Highlights in Space 2009

[27] op cit, Anon

[28] op cit, Anon, Recommendation 863 on European Security and Space Debris

[29] Anon, Orbital Debris Frequently Asked Questions, NASA, July 2009, http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/faqs.html#12

[30] Anon, Orbital Debris Quarterly News, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Vol. 14 Issue 3, (Jul. 2010), p. 1.

[31] Anon, Orbital Debris Quarterly News, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Vol. 14 Issue 4, (Oct. 2010), p. 7.

[32] op cit, Anon, Recommendation 863 on European Security and Space Debris

[33] Anon, Orbital Debris Frequently Asked Questions, NASA, July 2009, http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/faqs.html#4

[34] Anon, United States Space Command (USSPACECOM), Federation of American Scientists, December 8th 2010, http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/nssrm/initiatives/usspace.htm

[35] De Selding, P.B., French Say ‘Non’ to U.S. disclosure of Secret Satellites, Space.com, June 8th 2007, http://www.space.com/news/060707_graves_web.html

[36] op cit, Anon, Highlights in Space 2009

[37] op cit, Anon

[38] Anon, United Nations Treaties and Principles On Outer Space, related General Assembly resolutions and other documents, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, December 5th 2010, http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/pdf/publications/ST_SPACE_51E.pdf

[39] op cit, Anon

[40] Beard, p. 273

[41] op cit, Anon, United Nations Treaties and Principles On Outer Space, related General Assembly resolutions and other documents

[42] op cit, Anon

[43] op cit, Anon

[44] op cit, Anon

[45] Mirmina, p. 652

[46] op cit, Anon, United Nations Treaties and Principles On Outer Space, related General Assembly resolutions and other documents

[47] op cit, Anon

[48] Anon, Orbital Debris Frequently Asked Questions, NASA, July 2009, http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/faqs.html#21

[49] op cit, Anon, Recommendation 863 on European Security and Space Debris

[50] op cit, Anon

[51] David, p. 69

[52] Finkleman, D., The Contribution of Space Systems and Strategic Defense to Nuclear Stability, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 145 No. 3 (Sep. 2001), p. 261.

[53] DeBlois, B.M./Garvin, R.L./Kemp, R.S./Marwell, J.C., Space Weapons: Crossing the U.S. Rubicon, International Security, Vol. 29 No. 2 (Autumn 2004), p. 62.

[54] Mirmina, p. 657

[55] Ibid.

[56] Mirmina, p. 649

[57] op cit, Anon, Space Surveillance

Ende der Leseprobe aus 19 Seiten

Details

Titel
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, Space Debris, and Spy Satellites
Veranstaltung
Global Governance—Working in International Institutions
Jahr
2010
Seiten
19
Katalognummer
V184726
ISBN (eBook)
9783656096559
ISBN (Buch)
9783656096436
Dateigröße
491 KB
Sprache
Deutsch
Schlagworte
united, nations, office, outer, space, affairs, debris, satellites, international relations
Arbeit zitieren
Anonym, 2010, The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, Space Debris, and Spy Satellites, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/184726

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