12 June 1998

Press Release



(Reissued as received.)

VIENNA, 12 June (UN Information Service) - Plans for a 185-nation conference on "Space Benefits for Humanity in the Twenty-first Century" to be held in Vienna next year were brought closer to completion today by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Concluding its eight-day session here, the Committee took the unprecedented decision that the third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) would also be open to international organizations, non-governmental organizations and space-related industries. Two earlier outer space conferences held in Vienna -- UNISPACE (1968) and UNISPACE 82 (1982) -- involved only delegates from Member States in their official work.

In a departure from United Nations past practice in dealing with global problems by means of major world conferences, UNISPACE III will be held as a special session of the Committee, which has acted as its preparatory body. This change was made in the interest of cost savings.

The aim of the Conference is to promote the utilization of space technology and its application to assist in solving global or regional problems in the twenty-first century. Among main topics during the Conference will therefore be the use of space technology in disaster management (prediction, early warning, mitigation and reduction), environmental and agricultural monitoring, space-based technology for development, telecommunication and tele-medicine. The Conference will also serve as an opportunity for a critical evaluation of international space activities.

A technical forum consisting of technical presentations, workshops, seminars, poster sessions, an exhibition and public lectures will be held within the framework of UNISPACE III.

To free up time and resources for UNISPACE III, it was decided that in 1999 the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee would meet for five days (with possible extension to eight days) and the Legal Subcommittee and the Committee itself would meet for three days each.


Space activity is expected to become a world economic engine in the next century, offering a wide array of possibilities for which countries, especially developing countries need to be prepared. The organizers of UNISPACE III see space technology as a means to close the widening gap between developing and developed countries.

During the session, the Committee completed work on the draft report of the forthcoming Conference, including a summary to convey the main issues of the Conference to the media and the general public, and agreed on a text of the "Vienna declaration" which will be submitted to UNISPACE III for consideration as one of its final documents.

Adherence to Space Treaties

A further key topic this session was the question of adherence to the five international space treaties. This question was taken up this year for the first time as a new item on the agenda of the Legal Subcommittee. Mexico has proposed that the Committee and its Legal Subcommittee begin reviewing the status of the outer space treaties, the various obstacles cited by States as preventing them from ratifying those instruments and elements which may require updating.

The treaties are the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1968 Astronaut Rescue Agreement, the 1972 Liability Convention, the 1975 Registration Convention and the 1979 Moon Agreement.

The Committee failed to reach consensus on a German proposal, on behalf of 19 European States, calling for improvements in the 1975 Registration Convention, within a three-year work plan to be undertaken by the Legal Committee. The European countries feel that, in light of dramatic advances in both technology and the nature of activities taking place in outer space, some of the treaty's provisions need updating. The United States and the Russian Federation argue however that since the five treaties are interrelated, changes to one Convention could necessitate a careful examination of all five documents.

The Registration Convention requires States to maintain registries of objects launched into outer space and to furnish certain information on each object for inclusion in a central register maintained by the United Nations.

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Space Activities

Also during the session, the Committee endorsed a set of proposals by its Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, which met from 9 to 20 February. In its report, the Subcommittee stressed the necessity of ensuring the coordination of outer space activities within the United Nations system. On the question concerning regional and interregional mechanisms of cooperation, it was decided to establish regional centres for space science and technical education within existing national or regional institutions in developing countries.

Space Debris

The Committee's Scientific and Technical Subcommittee this year completed a multi-year programme aimed at measuring, better understanding and effectively dealing with space debris -- defunct satellites and numerous fragments that now pose a potential danger to space projects.

On the question of space debris, the Subcommittee looked at various techniques for preventing or lessening damage to space objects, as well as for removing, while previous sessions discussed risk assessment and modelling space debris environment. It was agreed upon that in its next session the Subcommittee would complete a report on orbital debris.

Nuclear Power Sources

Concerning the use of nuclear power sources, the Committee endorsed a four-year work plan submitted by the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States at the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee's session this year, whereby a framework would be established for developing safer standards as regards the use of such power sources in outer space.

The Legal Subcommittee agreed concerning the uses of nuclear power sources in outer space that, at the present time, revision of the Principles was not warranted.


The Chairman of the Committee was U.R. Rao (India); Raimondo Gonzalex (Chile) served as Vice-Chairman. The Committee was informed that its Second Vice-President and Rapporteur, Mouslim Kabbaj (Morocco) was unable to complete his three-year term and that further discussion would be held in the African Group to identify a new candidate .

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Representatives of the following Member States of the Committee attended the session: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Viet Nam. Attending as observers were: Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Finland, Guatemala, Holy See, Libya, Republic of Korea, Slovak Republic, Thailand and Tunisia.

Also taking part were representatives of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the European Space Agency (ESA), the International Mobile Satellite Organization (Inmarsat), the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT), the League of Arab States, the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the International Law Association, the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing and the International Space University.

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