|Formation||12 December 1959|
|United Nations General Assembly|
The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) is a United Nations committee whose main task is to review and foster international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, as well as to consider legal issues arising from the exploration of outer space.
The Committee currently has 95 members who meet annually in Vienna, Austria at the Vienna International Centre in June. Additionally, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee tends to meet in February, while the Legal Subcommittee usually meets in April.
The UN's interest in the peaceful uses of outer space was first expressed in 1957, soon after the launching of the first Sputnik. Its main concern was that space should be used for peaceful purposes and that the benefits from space activities be shared by all nations. Thus, on 13 December 1958, the General Assembly created an ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space composed of 18 members who were tasked with reporting to the Assembly about the activities and resources of the UN, its specialized agencies and other international bodies relating to the peaceful uses of outer space.
The next year, on 12 December 1959, the ad hoc Committee was established as a permanent body by the General Assembly with its membership being further increased to 24. It retained the same mission of its predecessor - to review international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
As the subsequent Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union heightened, the international community quickly became concerned that space could be used for military purposes. As a result of disagreements between the US and the USSR, the Committee did not meet again until March 1962 after the General Assembly compelled it to via Resolution 1721 (XVI). The Committee's two Subcommittees also met in May and June to discuss scientific, technical and legal questions. These subcommittees were in unanimity with respect to various scientific and technical questions while failing to come to an agreement on legal questions.
Resolution 1721 also further cemented the Committee's role in preserving space for peaceful purposes. It stated that international law and the UN Charter applied in outer space and directed the Committee to study and report on legal problems arising from space exploration. It directed all states to inform the Committee of all launches into space for the UN's public registry. It directed the Committee to keep close contact with governmental and non-governmental organizations concerned with space matters, as well as to act as an exchange of information relating to space activities. Finally, it directed the Committee to review reports of the World Meteorological Organization and the International Telecommunication Union in regard to outer space activities relating to weather research and analysis and telecommunication and to submit its comments and recommendations on these reports to the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Thus the Committee aimed to prevent space from becoming a new frontier for conflict. This gave the Committee the unique position of acting as a platform for maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes at the international level.
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has acted as the secretariat to the Committee since its creation in 1958. It also provides secretariat services to the Committee's subcommittees. All documents related to the Committee and its subcommittees are published by UNOOSA.
COPUOS also keeps track of the following other international agreements relating to activities in outer space:
The Association of Space Explorers (ASE), working in conjunction with B612 Foundation members, helped obtain UN oversight of near-Earth object (NEO) tracking and deflection missions through COPUOS along with its Action Team 14 (AT-14) expert group. Several members of B612 and ASE have worked with COPUOS since 2001 to establish international involvement for both impact disaster responses, and on deflection, missions to prevent impact events. As explained by B612 Foundation Chair Emeritus Rusty Schweickart in 2013, "No government in the world today has explicitly assigned the responsibility for planetary protection to any of its agencies".
In October 2013, the UN committee approved several measures to deal with terrestrial asteroid impacts, including the creation of an International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) to act as a clearinghouse for shared information on dangerous asteroids and for any future terrestrial impact events that are identified. A UN Space Missions Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) will also coordinate joint studies of the technologies for deflection missions, and as well provide oversight of actual missions. This is due to deflection missions typically involving a progressive movement of an asteroid's predicted impact point across the surface of the Earth (and also across the territories of uninvolved countries) until the NEO has been deflected either ahead of, or behind the planet at the point their orbits intersect. Schweickart states that an initial framework of international cooperation at the UN is needed to guide the policymakers of its member nations on several important NEO-related aspects.
At about the same time (Oct 2013) of the UN's policy adoption in New York City, Schweickart and four other ASE member, including B612 head Ed Lu and strategic advisers Dumitru Prunariu and Tom Jones, participated at a public forum moderated by Neil deGrasse Tyson not far from the UN's headquarters, urging the global community to adopt further important steps towards planetary defense against the threat of NEO impacts. Their recommendations included:
The first meetings of IAWN and SMPAG were held in 2014.
The Committee was first established by the General Assembly in its resolution 1348 (XIII) of 13 December 1958 and was originally composed of 18 members. It has grown to include 92 members as of 2019[update], and is subsequently one of the largest committees of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The evolution of the composition of the Committee is as follows:
|Year||Number of members||Members||Notes|
|1958||Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Sweden, Soviet Union, United Arab Republic, United Kingdom, United States||[a] [b] [c] [d]|
|1959||Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Lebanon, Romania|
|1961||Chad, Mongolia, Morocco, Sierra Leone|
|1973||Chile, West Germany, East Germany, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Venezuela||[e] [f]|
|1977||Benin, Cameroon, Colombia, Ecuador, Iraq, Netherlands, Niger, Philippines, Turkey, Yugoslavia||[g]|
|1980||China, Greece, Spain, Syria, Upper Volta, Uruguay, Vietnam||[h]|
|1994||Cuba, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Peru, South Korea, Senegal, South Africa, Ukraine|
|2001||Saudi Arabia, Slovakia|
|2012||Armenia, Costa Rica, Jordan|
|2015||El Salvador, Israel, Oman, Qatar, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates|
|2017||Bahrain, Denmark, Norway|
|2018||Cyprus, Ethiopia, Finland, Mauritius, Paraguay|
|2019||Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Singapore|
In addition to the Committee's Member States, a number of international organizations, including both intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, have observer status with COPUOS and its subcommittees. The following is a list of the Committee's observers, with the year they were granted that status:
The following is the Bureau of the Committee for its 63rd Session. The Session was scheduled to run from 17-26 June 2020 but was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bureau was selected through formal written procedures after consultation with the Secretariat.
|Francis Chizea||Nigeria||First Vice-Chair|
|Nicolás Botero Varón||Colombia||Second Vice-Chair and Rapporteur|
|Natália Archinard||Switzerland||Chair of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee|
|Setsuko Aoki||Japan||Chair of the Legal Subcommittee|