Space traffic management and small satellites: new topics to be included in United Nations international space law discussions

VIENNA, April 24, 2015 (UN Information Service) – The main international forum for governments to discuss the laws governing outer space, the Legal Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), agreed today to discuss the emerging complexities of space traffic management and the application of international law on small satellite activities at its next session.

Space traffic management, which is a set of technical and regulatory provisions for ensuring safe access into, operations in and return from outer space to Earth, has lately attracted increasing attention because of a sharp rise in the number of actors in outer space activities. This rise is demonstrative of capacity building efforts in space science and technology, including those of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), throughout the world.

It was also discussed at the recent Aerospace Symposium on “Emerging Space Activities and Civil Aviation – Challenges and Opportunities” jointly organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and UNOOSA, which for the first time brought together the space and aviation communities at the ICAO Headquarters in Montreal, Canada this March. The Symposium aimed to enhance the common understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to commercial space transportation development.

Similarly, the increased number of small satellites in outer space requires the examination of associated regulations. “Small satellites and their applications have given an equality of access for many new entities with limited funds to join in the exploration and peaceful use of outer space”, said UNOOSA Director Simonetta Di Pippo, who also introduced the UNOOSA information hand-out, developed by the Office in consultation with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), on topics such as registration, authorization, debris mitigation and frequency management of small and very small satellites

Stressing the importance of inter-agency coordination among UN entities on outer space activities, the so-called UN-Space mechanism, Ms. Di Pippo said that “UNOOSA’s reinforced bilateral  cooperation with entities such as ITU and ICAO has resulted in significant achievements. And with the decision to formally address the legal matters relating to space traffic management and small satellites within the Legal Subcommittee we can work towards ensuring the safety of space operations to benefit all users of outer space.”

The information hand-out, released during the session, can be found at 

Documents, digital recordings and presentations of the Subcommittee's 54th session, which concluded today, are available at 


Sinead Harvey 
United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)
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United Nations Information Service Vienna  (UNIS Vienna)
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