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United Nations Office On Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) / Committee On The Peaceful Uses Of Outer Space (COPUOS)


The United Nations Office on Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) is the United Nations office responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. UNOOSA serves as the secretariat for the General Assembly's only committee dealing exclusively with international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space: the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). UNOOSA is also responsible for implementing the UN Secretary-General's responsibilities under international space law and maintaining the United Nations Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space.

On 10 December 1994, the United General Assembly decided to increase the membership of this body and South Africa was granted membership as the most technologically advanced state in Africa and for her activism in space related matters.
South Africa actively participates in all the three policy-making organs of COPUOS, i.e.

  • The Main Committee
  • The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee
  • The Legal Subcommittee

Main Committee

This committee considers and adopts decisions of the two subcommittees, and its agenda is informed by the work of the two sub-committees, i.e. the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, as well as the Legal Subcommittee. South Africa actively participates in all the meetings of COPUOS and served as the Vice-Chairperson of the 53rd Session for the period 2010-2011.

In 2008 Government adopted the South African National Space Agency Act, which provides for the promotion and use of space and co-operation in space-related activities, fosters research in space science, and advances scientific engineering through human capital. The South African Council for Space Affairs (SACSA) was established under the authority of the Minister of Trade and Industry to exercise regulatory functions and advise the Minister on all space-related matters. The South African National Space Agency (SANSA), a government body for the promotion and use of space, focuses on  areas such as: Earth Observation, Space Engineering, Space Operations, Space Science, Human Capital Development and Science Advancement and Public Engagement.

South Africa adheres to all five international legal instruments and the five sets of legal principles governing space-related activities (e.g. Moon Treaty).

South Africa hosts the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), and together with Australia will host the International Radio Telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), in collaboration between institutions in 19 countries.. South Africa hosted the 62nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC) from 3-7 October 2011 in Cape Town.

In the margins of the Third African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in 2009, South Africa joined the Governments of Algeria, Kenya, and Nigeria in finalizing an agreement on the African Resources management satellite constellation (ARMC), a regional initiative aiming at developing a network of satellites to provide earth observation imagery to facilitate the continent's response to drought, flooding, outbreaks of fire, water scarcity, and the spread of infectious diseases, the destruction of ecosystems, water degradation and air pollution. Long-term weather predictions could also greatly assist the agricultural sector to improve food security.

The Disaster Management Centre at the DPGL in South Africa has been nominated a National Focal Point for the UN Space System Based Disaster Management Support (UN-SPIDER).

Sumbandila, South Africa’s second satellite was launched into orbit in 2009. Sumbandila’s primary payload was a multispectral imager, providing pictures with a resolution of approximately 6.2 metres, which was considered important for a variety of Earth observation products needed in South Africa, such as crop yield monitoring for farmers, tracking land use changes, or identifying the optimal sites for building, transportation. In addition it was used for hydrological monitoring, mapping water resources in the country.


The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee

This committee is mandated to consider matters of scientific and technical significance relative to space use, including issues such as:

  • Disaster management and mitigation
  • Space Debris
  • Remote sensing of the earth by satellite including application for developing countries and monitoring of the earth’s environment
  • Use of nuclear power sources in outer space
  • Technical attributes and physical nature of the geo-stationary orbit
  • Education in space science and training


This subcommittee further received a mandate on the implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) held in Vienna in 1999.

Dr. Peter Martinez from South Africa is chairing the Working Group on the Long-Term Sustsainability of Outer Space, which will draw up guidelines following focused discussions over a multi-year workplan. As the sole representative from the African continent, South Africa also serves on the Governmental Group of Experts (GGE) on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities established by the UN General Assembly in 2012.

The Legal Subcommittee

This subcommittee considers the status of the legal regimes pertaining to be peaceful uses of outer space and their adherence.  Among the issues are:

  • Status and application of United Nations Treaties on outer space
  • Legal definition and delimitation of outer space

Website: http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/

Website: http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/oosa/COPUOS/copuos.html

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