Insight - UNISPACE+50 and the High Level Forum

Monday, February 5, 2018

By Michael Simpson, Executive Director

Sometimes our Insight columns focus on recent developments in the space policy arena of which we think you will want to be aware. Other times we try to take you out a bit over the political horizon to look at future events likely to have important impact. We always try to give an insight into Secure World Foundation’s work on those developments whether we were at their center or closer to the periphery. This time we combine these patterns and turn to a future development, just over the horizon, for which the Foundation has been closely involved in the planning for many years.

On June 18, the United Nations will convene UNISPACE+50 in Vienna, Austria. It will be only the fourth time that the UN has convoked a global conference on space policy in its history. Looking back on the previous three UNISPACE Conferences, we can expect this latest version, coming 50 years after the first, to establish the substantive agenda that will drive multilateral discussion, deliberation, and debate on space policy at least until the year 2030.

There is only so much we can learn from examining the past UNISPACE Conferences, however. Since the last one, UNISPACE III, much has changed. As we have noted in our Handbook for New Actors in Space, a lot of that change has come through technological advances. However, far more has occurred through the geographic spread  of space activity; the political, cultural, and economic diversity of those people and institutions active in space initiatives; and, perhaps, even in the culture of the space community itself.

Advances in the technology of miniaturization have raised global interest in the challenges and promise of small satellite technologies. New approaches to launch operations and innovative methods of getting to orbit increase the number of states and institutions that could hope to reach it from their own territory. Other spacecraft developments point to a future where any place with a commercial airport could welcome cargo and passengers returning from space missions.  New methods of collecting, processing, and analyzing data obtained through Earth observation such as crowd sourcing, Artificial Intelligence, and new user interfaces have greatly expanded the impact of space sourced remote sensing data around the world.

Every one of these advances and many others are capable of presenting questions in the minds of policy makers hoping to benefit from these developments without paying the price of chaos as they evolve.

Since 1999, when UNISPACE III concluded its work with the publication of the Vienna Declaration on Space and Human Development, the diversity of those policy makers has increased dramatically. Over 70 states, commercial companies, and international organizations operate their own satellites. The membership of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) has risen from 61 countries to 87. The range of perspectives one hears in today’s international policy fora is very broad. The cultural perspectives brought to bear on space policy deliberations are rich and often profound. The differences they reveal are significant, but they are also reconcilable.

What we expect to see emerge from UNISPACE+50 is an agenda-setting document. It will no doubt have a long, substantive title, but we already know it as Space2030. Over the last three years and more, SWF hase participated closely in a deliberate process that has sought to maximize the diversity of ideas that have contributed to the conceptual foundation of UNISPACE+50.

In order to receive input from a much broader community of stakeholders engaged in space activity, the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs adopted the UN’s successful High Level Forum concept to convene three organizing sessions that were open to interested parties from States, businesses, intergovernmental organizations, other UN Agencies, and non-governmental organizations like ourselves. SWF helped sponsor these sessions, including a preparatory session in 2015, and participated actively in all three.

Out of these HLF sessions came programs of work, the Dubai Declaration elaborating core principles, and, in 2017, specific recommendations and observations for State consideration as they do the hard preparatory work leading up to June 2018.

Secure World Foundation will continue to be actively involved in the preparatory work through presence at both subcommittee meetings of COPUOS this February and April. When UNISPACE+50 convenes in June, every member of our program staff will be present to assist in advancing one or more pieces of the conference work, and our founder, Cynda Collins Arsenault will participate in a panel to help to open the first two public days of the conference.

If you have not yet begun to follow the preparations of UNISPACE+50 and the impact its agenda-setting deliberations will have on your own operating and planning environment, we invite you to do so. Information on the background, preparations, thematic priorities and activities associated with UNISPACE+50 is available on the webite of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs here. Following the ideas being developed and presented will be important to the evolution of your own thinking, and following the process will tell you a lot about how the culture of the global space community has evolved since UNISPACE I convened in 1968, before the first humans walked in the Moon and before so many countries, people, and enterprises came to believe that they, too, could do great things in space.

Background stories on SWF’s role in preparing UNISPACE+50

Last updated on February 5, 2018