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Space Watch

Eisenhart: Working Toward the Common Interest of All Nations is Critical - and Possible

UNCOPUOS - While Sometime Contentious - Engenders Cooperation, Collaboration

This month's regular installment of Second View is by Space Foundation Senior Vice President - Strategic & International Affairs Steve Eisenhart.

I recently had the privilege of participating on the United States delegation to the 55th Session of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS). Serving as private sector advisor to the delegation, I joined representatives from the Department of State, NASA, DoD, NOAA, USGS and FAA along with members of our Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Vienna and other organizations.

While many question the value, cost and effectiveness of United Nations' activities, going so far as to call it "feckless" at times, I come away from my experience encouraged by the professionalism of my U.S. colleagues and that of the many space professionals, diplomats and experts from around the world. Both individually and collectively, they are committed to the principles under which the United Nations created COPUOS and to appropriate representation of national interests and prerogatives.

It is the efforts of all of the delegations to COPUOS that contribute to the common interest of mankind as a whole in (I quote COPUOS' mission here) "furthering the peaceful use of outer space, and in the exploration and use of outer space for the betterment of mankind and to the benefit of States irrespective of the stage of their economic or scientific development."

COPUOS provides a much-needed forum for the exchange of views, the promotion of transparency and the understanding of mutually beneficial interests in space applications, education, science and legal affairs.

A current initiative of UNCOPUOS is the Long-Term Sustainability of Space Activities (LTSSA) Working Group. This effort, chaired by Peter Martinez of South Africa, is chartered to develop a consensus report of voluntary best-practice guidelines for all space actors to ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space. Four expert groups are examining:

  • Sustainable space utilization supporting sustainable development on Earth (co-chaired by Portugal and Mexico)
  • Space debris, space operations and space situational awareness (co-chaired by Italy and the United States) 
  • Space weather (co-chaired by Japan and Canada) 
  • Regulatory regimes and guidance for new space actors (co-chaired by Australia and Italy)

These are not easy issues to tackle. The myriad interests entailed, coupled with the overarching need for consensus, creates challenges in itself. Balancing of state and private interests and those of established spacefaring nations and emerging space actors also is a consideration.

I saw talented lawyers, scientists and diplomats working together in the expert groups to develop products that will provide value - some direct, some intangible. Yes, there was debate, disagreement and lack of understanding. But hard work, deliberate crafting of language, dialogue and adherence to principles made progress toward efforts that will be finalized in the multi-year work plan.

Our friend and colleague Dr. Leroy Chiao writes elsewhere in this issue of Space Watch about the need for international cooperation and collaboration specific to the Chinese space program. I emphatically agree. The on-going process of the LTSSA Working Group and UNCOPUOS and its sub-committees provide another, even broader opportunity for cooperation and collaboration. They should be commended and supported.

Author's Note: Specific applause to Ken Hodgkins, director of the Office of Space and Advanced Technology, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S Department, who - as head of delegation - has skillfully led U.S. contingents to all UNCOPUOS and many other international meetings for more than 32 years. We are grateful for his service to our nation and his efforts to advance space-related endeavors to inspire, enable and propel humanity.

Steve Eisenhart is Senior Vice President - Strategic & International Affairs. He leads the strategic integration of the public, policy and international affairs of the Space Foundation. He supervises the Space Foundation's Washington, D.C., office, which handles: government affairs and research and analysis efforts; relationships with government agencies, other space advocacy organizations and associations; and corporate interests. Eisenhart is principally responsible for the Space Foundation's global strategy and relationships with international space agencies and organizations, foreign embassies and U.S. organizations involved with international space programs. He is directly responsible for the program development and integration of key Space Foundation activities including the widely acclaimed National Space Symposium. Since joining the Space Foundation in 1996, Eisenhart has had a broad range of responsibilities, serving as senior vice president of strategic communications, director of communications and public affairs and communications manager. Eisenhart was a military public affairs official and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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