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The Global Agenda Council on Space Security has completed its second year of existence. After a very successful meeting during the Abu Dhabi Summit in October 2011, the Council has continued to maintain active links between its members and update the Global Agenda Councils website with numerous publications and references. For the first time in its existence, the Council was also active during the World Economic Forum 2012 hosting a widely attended session during the Open Forum on “A day without satellites”, which led to stimulating exchanges of views. The Council has raised three issues:

  • The importance of space as a tool for many policies and services, including global security
  • The critical dependence of our societies on this tool
  • The need to safeguard this tool for use by future generations since such use is increasingly threatened

Several events during the year highlighted the ongoing importance of these issues. It is clear that they are more crucial than ever.


Council Focus Issues

Space as a tool for global services, including safety and security

Our societies rely on the creation and transmission of information. Space-based means have the unique ability to collect and broadcast large amounts of information, near-instantaneously, worldwide. They are a critical and irreplaceable part of communication, imaging, positioning, and navigation services. Satellites can also provide continuous and global coverage enabling scientists to gather a wide range of information on our planet and its components. Space-borne instruments collect data over long time periods, enabling comparisons and the construction of models to understand complex issues such as global climate change. They thus allow the world community to address many global challenges, such as climate change, resources management, access to energy resources, food security, and disaster prediction and management. (e.g. Brazil’s use of satellite imagery to detect deforestation and target illegal logging).

Moreover, space capabilities help to build confidence between states and contribute to international peace and security. In addition, observations from space can help to uncover genocides, involving systematic killing of civilian populations (ref. note on Rwanda by R. Jakhu).

Space assets also support everyday consumer applications such as ATM services. Satellites are already critical for national security applications (such as intelligence, communications, and command and control), and will grow increasingly more central to these missions. Maritime, aviation, and land users rely on the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite service on a daily basis for distress alerts and search and rescue support. This service has enabled the rescue of more than 30,000 people since its inception in 1982 (ref. note on COSPAS-SARSAT by R. Jakhu).

Space assets have become indispensable to the successful functioning of national and global economies and societies, making their continuous development a necessity to avoid disruption or decline. A typical example is the reliance of our societies on the GPS network of positioning and navigation satellites. Beyond guiding cars, aircraft and ships, the GPS timing signal has become the reference for synchronizing all digitized transmissions within and between networks, including power grids, financial and trade transactions, transports, and manufacturing (ref. note by P. Hays). Satellites also provide critical links and services to remote communities in areas where ground-based infrastructure is impractical. Even temporary outages may cause substantial problems for such communities (ref. case study by B. Weeden on “Satellites providing critical services to remote communities”).

In addition, space infrastructure plays an important role in the management and mitigation of disasters. Space-based means can provide aid and support in all phases of a disaster: (1) prevention through monitoring and forecasting for extreme weather events; (2) early warning and alert (e.g. forest fires, floods, earthquakes); (3) disaster management by providing rescue teams with rapid mapping and damage assessment; and (4) management of rescue operations. Satellites provide a ready substitute for ground-based telecommunications infrastructures when major disasters disrupt these networks. Space assets provided these services during the devastation caused by the March 2011 tsunami in Japan (ref. case study by H. Suzuki). The International Charter on Space and Disasters also provides good examples of the use of space in these circumstances (ref. note on the Charter, G. Naja).

Finally, it must be emphasised that in addition to the wide range of services provided by space assets and the competition between space-faring nations that they can generate, space has also become a symbol of global cooperation and collaboration. The International Space Station (ISS) already brings together several nations around the peaceful goal of research in space. Given their cost and complexity, one may expect that future large exploration endeavours will be conducted within a worldwide collaboration framework.

 Space as a Factor for Growth and Competitiveness

The global space industry accounts for approximately $290 billion in annual economic activity and has grown 41 per cent over the past five years, surpassing many other sectors of the global economy. The space and aeronautics sector generates and supports jobs globally. During a time of global near-recession, space is an important jobs generator in many Western countries, and a jobs enabler in many developing nations. Several studies have shown that investments in space generate at least three- to four-fold returns in direct and indirect benefits. Space activities have a large multiplier effect on the economy beyond the space sector itself. Space-derived products, services and knowledge benefit the economy and society across a wide range of sectors (ref. 2011 OECD report on “The space economy at a glance”).

Space is at or near the pinnacle of high-technology sectors. Developing and operating space systems strengthens the engineering and scientific capabilities of the workforce and inspires younger generations to work in science and technology careers.

Against this background, an increasing number of countries are developing space activities leading to an internationalisation and globalisation of the space sector. Today, more than 50 countries own or operate satellites, and about ten have the ability to launch objects in space.

In the longer term, space can help solve the many global challenges faced by humankind and the planet, such as shortages of energy, water and resources. Space-based services help to monitor natural resources such as fresh water and crops, and enable more efficient management. In the energy sector, space can be a source of technological innovation for energy creation and storage, and space services can help to maximize the output of renewable energy sources by providing information on the most efficient location and deployment of wind and solar installations.

Space Infrastructures Must Be Protected to Ensure Sustainable Use of Space by Future Generations

There are many threats to our ability to use space over the long term. Natural threats, such as solar flares or Near Earth Objects, pose a threat to space-based infrastructure, astronauts on the ISS, airline passengers and crews, and terrestrial electrical transmission equipment.

The most dangerous threat to the long-term sustainability of space, however, is man-made: the ever-growing quantities of space debris.

There are currently about 1,000 active satellites orbiting the Earth, along with an estimated 22,000 pieces of debris larger than 10cm (causing destruction and loss of satellite in case of collision), and a further 500,000 pieces between 1cm and 10cm (causing partial damage or complete loss in case of collision). This population of debris has increased greatly over the past four decades and continues to grow. On average, one can expect a collision between two objects in the most congested regions every three years. Satellites in these regions must conduct an increased number of avoidance manoeuvres that shorten their operational lifetime. The debris can even threaten the lives of the astronauts on board the ISS. On average, the Space Station performs avoidance manoeuvres several times a year that require the astronauts to seek refuge in the better shielded part of the Station (ref. note on space debris/note by B. Weeden on impact of solar flares on ground infrastructure/space infrastructure).

In addition, a growing number of states worldwide are developing and investing in military and dual-use space capabilities. These space capabilities improve terrestrial military effectiveness for the states that employ them but also create motivations for other states to develop means of lessening or nullifying these military advantages. In recent years this dynamic has manifested itself in a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test that created a large debris field, a 2008 American satellite shoot-down, and more discussion by several states about their perceived need to develop or improve anti-satellite capabilities.

 Proposed responses

The goal should be to ensure that all nations have access to the benefits of space for all peaceful purposes: supporting human and environmental security, development and economic growth, and international peace and stability. Space already provides great benefits to humankind and will also support future development.

All space actors must cooperate and collaborate to share space situational awareness, information about the space environment, and the impact of human activities. This shared awareness increases our ability to detect problems and react appropriately.

Space must also be used to improve knowledge about the Universe and our planet and its environment. Understanding the evolution of our solar system helps us to understand potential effects of climatic evolution.

All space-faring nations must work together to promote safer and more sustainable uses of space, seeking to reduce the environmental impact of space activities as well as the influence of human activities on the space environment. This will ensure that future generations may continue to use space as we do today. Several examples of international regulatory frameworks could be used as a reference or as a model for potential future regulations (ref. note on ITU by R. Jakhu; other notes on legal frameworks: ICAO, Oceans/Antarctic cases – Siddhartha).

Such a framework, to be elaborated, should promote the responsible use of space. Well-crafted regulations will seek to sustain the potential of space by preserving the Earth’s orbital environment as a safe area in which to operate satellites and by limiting or minimizing harmful interference in space activities. The initiative for drafting an International Code of Conduct for outer space activities represents a useful first step in this direction.

Additional research should be conducted on methods to safely and effectively deorbit critical pieces of debris and/or to elevate debris out of the plane of active satellites (collectively called “active space debris removal”).

Finally, the future exploration of space also must be performed in a sustainable way. Detailed and precise planetary protection guidelines must be agreed to and implemented.

Key Obstacles to Progress

The key obstacle to progress regarding space sustainability and security is a lack of concern and action. The issue is already critical, but if nothing is done, it will soon become unmanageable. As mentioned above, potential measures include a mix of governance and technical approaches, such as global space weather services, the cataloguing and monitoring of debris, and eventually active debris removal. On the governance side, many forums are discussing the issue, including the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) on the long-term sustainability of space activities and the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on transparency and confidence building measures. Discussions are ongoing between space-faring nations on cooperation and data-sharing for space weather and space situational awareness. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of all space-faring nations to conduct their space activities in a safe and responsible manner and to ensure that their space activities will not create new debris.


What Steps Have Been Taken to Promote the Recommendations?

  • Governance aspects: Multilateral effort toward developing an International Code of Conduct on Outer Space Activities. Launch in July 2012 of a UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) seeking to make recommendations to the Secretary-General for the pursuit of Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures (TCBMs) in Outer Space to reduce the risks of conflict in space.
  • Discussions within the Conference on Disarmament on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (such as Russian/Chinese proposal on a treaty to ban space weapons) and within UNCOPUOS by the working group on the Long-Term Sustainability of Space Activities;
  • UN space debris mitigation guidelines in 2007
  • UN Framework on Nuclear Power Sources
  • UN General Assembly’s approval of voluntary space debris mitigation guidelines in 2007
  • Annual Outer Space Conference of UNIDIR (Geneva on March 29-30), which addressed TCBMs due to the launch of the UN expert group. The target audience is diplomats, policymakers, academics, scientists, militaries and relevant businesses.
  • Awareness raising: SWF organises conferences and workshops promoting the need to act to preserve space for the benefit of Earth and all its peoples; McGill Institute of Air and Space Law regularly organises international and interdisciplinary conferences addressing regulatory and policy issues relating to governance of space challenges including space debris, session at the Open Forum of the World Economic Forum; publications, etc.
  • The launching of the Space Data Association in 2009, a coalition of satellite industry operators who are now sharing orbital data to avoid collisions with each other and debris.
  • Studies, e.g. on active debris removal technologies or NEO’s deflection options.

What is Planned for the Future?


  • Conferences, workshops
  • UNIDIR will hold its annual outer space conference in March or April 2013.
  • The UN Group of Governmental Experts is expected to finish its report in July 2014.
  • The UNCOPUOS working group on Long-Term Sustainability of Space Activities is expected to complete its report in 2014.


  • SSA Programme and preliminary SSA services, as well as in-orbit demonstration of debris removal (ESA, tbc)
  • UNIDIR soon hopes to launch a project to promote an international code of conduct

Advocacy and Discussions

  • Next Summit
  • Next World Economic Forum
  • Link with other Global Agenda Councils in particular on risks, disaster management, security, energy…


The creation of a Global Agenda Council on Space Security signals growing awareness of the problem and the will to act globally towards a set of measures to mitigate the challenges. The Council on Space Security seeks to heighten that awareness through linkages with other Global Agenda Councils as well as through participation in selected Forum projects. Furthermore, the enormous media presence and political impact of the Forum could help to promote the case of space and the need to ensure its sustainable use. Regular articles and publications, such as in the Global Agenda Councils newsletter, should also be considered.


The opinions expressed here are those of the individual members of the Council and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.