Two new topics on the agenda of the UNCOPUOS Legal Subcommittee: Space traffic management and small satellites

During the 54th session of the Legal Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which took place from 13-24 April 2015 in Vienna, member States agreed to put the topics of space traffic management and small satellites on the agenda of the next session of the Subcommittee.

Space traffic management is a set of technical and regulatory provisions ensuring safe access into, operations in and return from outer space to Earth. Due to the rising number of actors in outer space and the continuous increase in outer space activities this topic is currently attracting more and more attention. The increase in space actors and activities leads to a deterioration of safety in outer space and threatens the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. Therefore, comprehensive regulations, including effective implementation and control mechanisms, are needed to enhance the safety and security of space activities on the long term.

Similarly, the increase in small satellite activities also makes an examination of associated regulations necessary. Small satellites have become more and more popular in recent years, as technological development has made it possible to build, launch and operate satellites at rather low cost, thus opening new opportunities for developing countries, research institutions and small business start-ups to engage in space activities. However, in order to ensure the safe and responsible use of outer space, it is necessary to be aware of the need to include small satellite missions appropriately in the scope of application of national and international regulatory frameworks.

In this context, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) have recently elaborated an information hand-out on topics such as registration, authorization, debris mitigation and frequency management of small satellites.

With the decision to address the legal issues relating to space traffic management and small satellites in the Legal Subcommittee, COPUOS member States can work towards enhancing the safety of space operations for the benefit of all.