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Forwarding Multilateral Space Governance: Next Steps for the International Community

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Over the past decade, concerns about ensuring sustainability and security in outer space have led the international community to pursue a range of governance initiatives. Governance issues regarding the use of space are complicated because of the physical realities of the space environment and because of the legal status of space as a global resource. As the number of space users grows and the types of activities in space expand, competition for access to space will only continue to grow. Different space actors have different priorities and perceptions regarding space challenges. As more and more militaries around the world turn to space assets, the potential development of counterspace weapons also increases tensions. 

Ongoing multilateral work on space governance has concentrated primarily on voluntary measures. There have been three major multilateral governance initiatives in the field. The three—the EU Code of Conduct, the COPUOS Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities, and the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on transparency and confidence-building measures—were related to each other, but each aimed to address slightly different aspects of the governance problem. This paper reviews these initiatives and elucidates ways to forward their progress, for instance, by fully implementing the GGE recommendations, the establishment of national focal points for data exchange, and by fully implementing the UN Registry of Outer Space Objects. It also looks to identify additional steps beyond current activities at the multilateral level for establishing a foundational space governance framework, including institutionalizing the UN Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines; establishing a public space situational awareness database; and examining ways to move forward discussion on active debris removal, national legal obligations regarding military activities, and space traffic management.


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