Since the beginning of time, exploring the Universe has been a dream of humankind. Human curiosity has fuelled interest in exploring and discovering new worlds, pushing the boundaries of the known, and expanding scientific and technical knowledge.
States and space agencies have been engaging in space exploration since the first space launch. The first space launch led to the first human space flight, which led to the first moonwalk. Nowadays focus has shifted to joint human and robotic missions, near-Earth asteroids, Mars and destinations beyond our own solar system.
Space exploration and the innovation it entails are essential drivers for opening up new domains in space science and technology. They trigger new partnerships and develop capabilities that create new opportunities for addressing global challenges. Space exploration also motivates young people to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the STEM disciplines).
Though the precise nature of future benefits from space exploration is not easily predefined, current trends suggest that significant advantage may be found in areas such as new materials, health and medicine, transportation and computer technology. As the benefits of space exploration and innovation become better known, increasingly more countries and non-governmental entities are interested in engaging in exploration and innovation.
Space Exploration and Innovation & the Sustainable Development Goals
Technological spin-offs derived from space exploration are important to socioeconomic development, technological progress and the overall benefit of humankind. Innovation is, however, not limited to technical fields. Also key are new business models and legal innovations. Investments in innovation are also central to Sustainable Development Goal 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure.
Common space exploration goals may bring together stakeholders and assist in the development of new technologies and new industries. Sustainable Development Goal 17 on partnerships for the goals promotes inclusive partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. By developing partnerships, entities with an interest in space exploration are able to coordinate and work together on shared goals in ways that maximize returns on investments and enable the earlier realization of objectives.
Recent COPUOS and UNOOSA Efforts
In 2016, seven thematic priorities were endorsed by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in the context of preparations for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Use of Outer Space (UNISPACE+50), the first of which was global partnership in space exploration and innovation. The Committee established an action team as the mechanism to drive the topic. Twenty-two States and seven permanent observer organizations joined the Action Team on Exploration and Innovation, producing a report including a series of recommendations ( A/AC.105/1168). The Action Team Co-Chairs underscored the significance of the report, "which represented the first time the United Nations had examined, in a comprehensive way, human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, and provided a basis for further consideration of how the United Nations system may contribute to a new era in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space".
In 2018, on the basis of the Action Team recommendation, the Committee added "Space exploration and innovation" as an item on its agenda ( A/73/20, para. 364).
Under this agenda item, first considered at the Committee session in 2019, States share information on, among other things: research and development activities; astronaut programmes; a space exploration innovation hub centre; the planned establishment of a Mars scientific city; activities in connection with the International Space Station and the China Space Station; the use of a satellite as a multi-wavelength observatory; various missions to the Moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and asteroids; the planned Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway; a new spacecraft that has the potential to be utilized as a deep-space logistics carrier to the cis-lunar region; a dedicated solar mission with a focus on studying the inner solar corona; a tracker of electromagnetic counterparts of binary neutron star merger events; a mission to examine the atmospheric composition of exoplanets; and satellites launched for the purpose of deep space exploration. Much of this information is available in technical presentations.
Also in 2019, and building on the work of the Action Team on Exploration and Innovation, the United Nations/Jordan Workshop: Global Partnership in Space Exploration and Innovation was held in Amman. This was the first workshop of its kind and included both capacity- building and strategic components.
Space Exploration and Innovation Documents linked to the COPUOS Agenda Item
Annual Reports on National Space Activities
The following are recent reports by States on their space activities submitted to the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. Many of the reports include information on space exploration and innovation. Such voluntary annual reporting promotes transparency and builds confidence. The 2019 session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee saw a spike in the number of States reporting on their space activities- nearly double the number of States reported as compared with the previous year.