Originally recommended by the General Assembly in 1959, the first UN Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was held in August 1968 in Vienna, with 78 states and a large number of international organizations attending. The conference examined the practical benefits to be derived from space research and the opportunities for international cooperation available to nations without space capability, with special reference to the needs of the developing countries. The participants submitted some 200 papers dealing primarily with space applications. They reviewed 10 years of space research in practical applications—in communications, meteorology, navigation, and education—and practical benefits, as well as economic and legal questions pertaining to international cooperation.
In August 1982, the Second UN Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (called UNISPACE 82) was held in Vienna, with 94 state participants and 45 observers representing intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. The conference dealt with the entire gamut of space sciences, technologies, and applications from scientific, technical, political, economic, social, and organizational points of view. It also considered the legal implications of issues on the agenda and discussed growing international concern relating to military activities in outer space.
The report of the conference, adopted by consensus, dealt with questions relating to the prevention of an arms race in space, the needs and possibilities for technology transfer, coordination in the use of the geostationary orbit, remote sensing of earth resources from space, the use of direct-broadcasting satellites, space transportation and space platform technologies, protection of the near-earth environment, the role of the UN, and other matters. The recommendations of the conference were seen as an agenda for nations and organizations to follow in carrying out space activities.
The Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) was held in Vienna, Austria (headquarters of OOSA since 1993), on 19–30 July 1999. The program included technical and space generation forums as well as a space exhibition and global conferences. The key objective was to create a blueprint for the peaceful uses of outer space in the 21st century. At the time of the conference there were five UN treaties covering a range of space activities. At a UNISPACE III plenary meeting, the Vienna Declaration on Space and Human
Development and its related Action Plan were adopted. The Declaration and Plan were the outcome of the coordinated work of attendees, including representatives of governments, intergovernmental bodies, civil society, and, for the first time, the private sector, to create a practical framework for cooperation and action to protect the planet and prepare for the "space millennium." The program involves using space applications for human security, protecting the outer space environment, increasing developing countries' access to space science and its related benefits, raising public awareness of the importance of the peaceful use of outer space, strengthening the UN's space activities, and promoting international cooperation.
Recommendations included creating a voluntary United Nations fund for UNISPACE III implementation; proclaiming a World Space Week, which is now held annually from 4 to 10 October; encouraging improved access by states to the International Space Station; supporting regional centers for space science and technology education set up under the auspices of the UN; and exploring the legal aspects of space debris, the use of nuclear power sources in space, intellectual property rights for space-related technologies, and ownership and access to the resources of celestial bodies.
DEVELOPMENT OF INTERNATIONAL LAW ON OUTER SPACE The early work of the legal subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was marked by disputes that delayed progress on the development of outer space law. The majority of members stressed the dangers of spectacular scientific advances without corresponding legal obligations and safeguards.
In originally proposing the formulation of an international legal code on outer space, the General Assembly had recommended that such a code be based, insofar as possible, on the existing body of international law (including the UN Charter) and the principle of freedom of space exploration for all states. But the USSR and the US differed on certain fundamental issues from the time that the question was first debated in the General Assembly in 1959. The most important difference was on the relation between the prevention of armaments in space and disarmament on earth.
The breakthrough in this quasi-procedural deadlock first came as part of the general East-West détente that followed the partial nuclear test-ban treaty signed in August 1963. During its 1963 session, the General Assembly was able to adopt by acclamation two important measures relating to restricting the use of outer space to peaceful purposes. The first was a resolution calling upon all states to refrain from placing in orbit objects carrying nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. The second was a resolution embodying a Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space. Though not an agreement with binding force, as the USSR had wished, it was regarded as the forerunner to a full legal treaty.
The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies , which the General Assembly unanimously acclaimed in 1966 and which came into force on 10 October 1967, was based on drafts submitted individually by both the US and the USSR. The 17 articles of the treaty state that the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind, that outer space and celestial bodies are not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty or any other means, and that exploration shall be carried on in accordance with international law. Parties to the treaty undertake not to place in orbit any objects carrying nuclear weapons, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or otherwise station them in outer space. The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all parties exclusively for peaceful purposes, and military bases or maneuvers on celestial bodies shall be forbidden. States shall regard astronauts as envoys of mankind in outer space and shall render them all possible assistance in case of accident, distress, or emergency landing. Parties launching objects into outer space are internationally liable for damage caused by such objects or their component parts. The principle of cooperation and mutual assistance shall be followed in space exploration. Harmful contamination of the moon and other celestial bodies shall be avoided. All stations, installations, equipment, and space vehicles on the moon and other celestial bodies shall be open for inspection to representatives of other states on a reciprocal basis.
Under the 1967 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, which came into force on 3 December 1968, contracting parties agree to procedures for assistance to spacecraft personnel in the event of an accident or emergency landing and for the return of space objects.
The 1971 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects , which came into force on 1 September 1972, provides a procedure for the presentation and settlement of claims.
Under the 1974 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space , which came into force on 15 September 1976, a central register of objects launched into space was established and is maintained by the UN Secretary-General, with mandatory registration, as well as notification to the Secretary-General of voluntary markings of such objects. Assistance is provided to states requesting help in the identification of hazardous objects or those causing damage.
The Agreement Governing Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies , adopted by the General Assembly on 5 December 1979, describes the moon and its natural resources as the common heritage of mankind, and it reserves the moon for exclusively peaceful purposes. It bars the emplacement of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction on the moon and also prohibits the placing in orbit, or in any other trajectory to or around the moon, of objects carrying such weapons and the establishment of military bases, the testing of any type of weapons, and the conduct of military activities on the moon.
The General Assembly has adopted three more sets of principles based on the work of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The Principles Governing the Use by States of Artificial Earth Satellites for International Direct Television Broadcasting , adopted in 1982, condition the establishment of direct-broadcasting satellite services on the prior consent of receiving states. The Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space , adopted in 1986, provide for international cooperation and participation in remote sensing; they specify that such activities will be permitted without the consent of the states being sensed but that the latter will have the right to receive data and information concerning their resources.
Finally, after many years of difficult debate and negotiation within the Committee, the General Assembly adopted in 1992 the Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space . They provide guidelines and criteria for safe use of nuclear power sources in outer space, including the requirement that a safety review be made prior to launching of any nuclear power source and that results of such review be made public through the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who should also be notified of any re-entry of radioactive materials to the earth.
Reflecting the changes in the international political and security environment, which provide new possibilities for the utilization of space technology to promote international peace, there were more constructive discussions within the committee in the 1990s on the enhancement of international cooperation in various aspects. The committee and its Legal Subcommittee continued their considerations on the matters relating to the definition and delimitation of outer space and to the character and utilization of the geostationary orbit and on legal framework for sharing the benefits of space exploration by all states.