Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
Seventy-third Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Fourth Committee Agenda Item 53:
International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space
New York, 25 October 2018
It is now some six decades since mankind first launched into orbit an artificial earth satellite, followed shortly by the launching of humans into outer space. Since that revolutionary time, the environment of outer space has become increasingly populated with earth satellites; with vehicles launched to the moon, Mars, Venus and other planets; and missions reaching further and further in the solar system and beyond.
Even though certain powers have made use of outer space for military purposes or experiments with military objectives, the vast majority of space missions have been for peaceful purposes like observation, communications and navigation. While experiments in the destruction of satellites have been carried out, and various schemes for populating outer space with weapon systems have been advanced, in large measure outer space has been an environment put to use for systems that provide widespread, if not global, benefits.
We can think, for example, of the global positioning system of satellites that increasingly is available for earth-bound travel and aviation. The immense benefits for weather forecasting provided by meteorological satellites. The ability to track hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones, can save tens of thousands of lives. Scientific platforms such as the Hubble Space Telescope have given us a wonderful appreciation of beautiful phenomena in far-flung galaxies, as well as insights into the structure and evolution of the universe from its earliest times.
Outer space is truly a common environment for mankind, even beyond the way we consider open oceans as a common environment. Thus, international cooperation is fundamental to keeping the outer space universally beneficial. In this regard, my Delegation welcomes the fact that the International Space Station (ISS) has continued to operate successfully with an international crew, with astronauts from many countries benefitting from this collaborative enterprise. The international community should learn from this experience of peaceful cooperation, consider broadening such cooperation to involve launch systems of other States, and perhaps even expand international space stations involving more States. Does it make sense today to operate several nationally oriented programs in parallel, rather than join such programs into a single, well coordinated effort to expand our peaceful use of outer space?
It has become increasingly evident that artificial satellites orbiting the Earth need to be launched and operated in a way that minimizes the possibility of collision with other satellites and space objects, a collision that typically results in the production of a great amount of debris, which continues to orbit the Earth and poses the risk of serious damage to other satellites. The destruction of a spacecraft around the Earth produces problems and endangers other artificial satellites. In pursuing the peaceful uses of outer space, States should give urgent consideration to “rules of the road” in one form or another that would require launching space vehicles to ensure that their orbits will not conflict with existing spacecraft. Such rules would also require that the launching State has designed the orbit of the spacecraft in such a way that, at the end of the life of the system, the craft will be disposed of in a safe and responsible manner.
Recent developments in space technology have included the development of a system of what are called “Cubesats,” a basic architecture of cubic structures some 10 centimeters on a side, that can be launched singly or in multiples of the cube joined together, to perform functions that have previously required much larger structures. The expanded use of Cubesats inevitably increases the importance of ensuring that these, as well as all other, satellites will not collide with other spacecraft.
The opportunities to grow and work closer together to preserve outer space for exclusively peaceful purposes are there for us to seize.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.