United Nations Programme on Space Applications

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Six Regional Centres for Space Science and Technology Education, affiliated to the United Nations, have been established under the Programme on Space Applications.

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Space technology has advanced rapidly in recent years. Nevertheless, a number of countries still lack the human, technical and financial resources required to conduct even the most basic space-related activities, such as meteorology, communications and natural-resource management. The need to make the benefits of space technology available to all countries has thus grown more urgent with each passing year.

The Programme on Space Applications (PSA), since its creation in 1971, has made substantial progress in furthering knowledge and experience of space applications around the world. Provision of country capacity-building, education, research and development support and technical advisory services by the Programme have all helped to reduce the gap between the industrialized and developing countries. Much more, however, remains to be accomplished.

The support of Member States and their participation in the Programme on Space Applications are vital. It is only through the commitment of all nations that the Programme can achieve its primary objective of putting space technology to work for sustainable economic and social development, not just in individual countries but on a global basis.

Mission of the Programme

Enhance the understanding and subsequent use of space technology for peaceful purposes in general, and for national development, in particular, in response to expressed needs in different geographic regions of the world.

Mandate of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications

In its resolution 2601 A (XXIV) of 16 December 1968 the General Assembly endorsed "the recommendation of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space for the appointment by the Secretary-General of a qualified individual with the full-time task of promoting the practical applications of space technology". Initial activities in what was later to be called the "United Nations Programme on Space Applications" commenced in May 1971 with an expert meeting of the United Nations Panel on Remote Sensing Systems for Earth Resource Surveys.

Following the Second United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE'82), the General Assembly in its resolution 37/90 of 10 December 1982 gave the the following mandate for implementing the Programme to the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA):

  • Promotion of greater cooperation and exchange of actual experiences in space science and technology between industrialized and developing countries as well as among developing countries;
  • Development of a fellowship programme for in-depth training of scientists, technologists and applications specialists, with the help of Member States and relevant international organizations, and establishment and regular updating of lists containing available fellowships in all States and relevant international organizations;
  • Organization of seminars on advanced space applications and new system developments for managers and leaders of space applications and technology development activities as well as seminars for users in specific applications;
  • Stimulation of the growth of indigenous nuclei and an autonomous technological base, to the extent possible, in space technology in developing countries with the cooperation of other United Nations agencies and/or Member States or members of the specialized agencies;
  • Dissemination of information on new and advanced technologies and applications, with emphasis on their relevance and implications for developing countries; and
  • Provision of technical advisory services on space applications projects, upon request by Member States or any of the specialized agencies.

The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 54/68 of 6 December 1999 requested, on the basis of UNISPACE III recommendations, the further strengthening the activities of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications to include the following:

  • Facilitating and supporting the development and implementation of space-related projects that address the operational needs of Member States;
  • Providing support to the regional centres for space science and technology education affiliated with the United Nations, including the Network of Space Science and Technology Education and Research Institutions of Central-Eastern and South-Eastern Europe;
  • Reorienting the long-term fellowship programme;
  • Organizing workshops and conferences on advanced space applications and new system developments for programme managers and leaders of space technology development and applications activities;
  • Organizing medium-term courses on remote-sensing education for university educators and on telecommunications and tele-health for professionals;
  • Providing technical advisory services to Member States, on request, on different aspects of space science and technology and related applications;
  • Promoting cooperation in space applications projects between government establishments, universities and research institutions and private industry;
  • Organizing an annual public forum to inform the general public of past, ongoing and planned space activities and the future direction of such activities;
  • Promoting activities for youth, so as to encourage interest among students and young scientists and engineers;
  • Promoting cooperation in the development of educational programmes in space science and technology for primary and secondary school curricula;
  • Establishing a programme of visits by astronauts, cosmonauts and other space scientists and engineers to increase knowledge about space-related activities, in particular among young people;
  • Promoting the participation of scientists from developing countries in space science and planetary exploration; and
  • Initiating programmes to promote the use of satellite communications and Earth observation data for disaster management and to provide opportunities for professionals to put into practice the knowledge that they have acquired through training courses.

History of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications

The United Nations Programme on Space Applications was established in 1971 on the recommendation of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE) that took place in Vienna, Austria in 1968. The Programme's initial mandate was to create awareness among policy makers and government agencies of the benefits of space technology and to assist people from developing countries in acquiring the knowledge, skills and practical experience necessary for their application. A United Nations Expert on Space Applications was also appointed at this time to oversee the Programme. Between 1972 and 1981, the Programme organized 45 events, including training courses, workshops, seminars and panel meetings, on a variety of space-related issues, and these were attended by over 1800 people. As the Programme's budget was limited, however, demand for places far outstripped supply and many qualified candidates were unable to participate.

The Programme expands: UNISPACE-82

The Second United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer (UNISPACE-82), held in 1982 in Vienna, recommended the expansion of the Programme and a broadening of its mandate.

As a result of UNISPACE-82, the Programme focussed on strengthening international cooperation, not only between the industrialized and developing countries, but among the developing countries themselves. To carry out the capacity-building required to enable countries to benefit from space science and technology, firm foundations were also laid for future cooperation between the Programme and other UN agencies, Member States and members of specialized agencies. This included the organization of a fellowship programme for in-depth training of specialists in space technologies and applications, as well as the holding of seminars, conferences and training courses on advanced space applications and new system developments.

Such innovations, together with improved dissemination of information on new and advanced technologies and applications - also recommended by the UNISPACE-82 Conference - have all led to greater awareness on the part of Member States, especially developing countries, of the benefits of space technology and of the many ways in which it can promote sustainable development at the local level.

Into the Third Millennium: UNISPACE III

Since the UNISPACE-82 Conference, significant changes have taken place in space activities. The decline in cold-war tensions and the considerable growth in the number of participants in space activities have led to greatly enhanced international cooperation. The private sector, for example, often in partnership with Governments, has played an increasingly important role in defining and implementing space programmes. Hand in hand with such changes has come a growing realization that space science and technology can address issues of common concern to all humanity.

The United Nations, recognizing that global challenges can best be met by a global dialogue, organized Third Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III), which was held in Vienna in July 1999. UNISPACE III had two main goals:

  • To promote the use of space technology in solving problems of a regional and global nature; and
  • To further strengthen the capability of Member States, particularly developing countries, in the use of space-related technologies for economic, social and cultural development.

Prior to UNISPACE III, regional preparatory conferences that took into account the distinctive characteristics and needs of each geographical region were held on various important issues. The regional conferences will gave the developing countries an opportunity to define their needs for space technology, as well as enabling the UNISPACE III conference to consider the most effective ways of expediting the use of space technology for sustainable development.

The UNISPACE III had a significant impact on the Programme's development and provided guidance for further strengthening the activities of the Programme on Space Applications.

Initiatives of the Programme

Thematic areas

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