Written by Yasushi Horikawa.

The benefits of space activities are of a global nature. As we all know, satellites provide significant and unique benefits to people on Earth – from global coverage, repeatable measurements, revisit capability, long time series of data, to strong disaster resistance. We can entertain these capabilities in our daily life.

Coordination for international cooperation and capacity building for developing countries are vital to achieve significant benefits from space and avoid catastrophic situations in the future. Utilizing space applications for sustainable development of the Earth is extremely important.

Space application or utilization is not geographically discriminating . However, Asian countries may have region-specific needs emerging from their nationalities, cultures, social development levels, economic situations, political circumstances and geographical locations. Therefore, some specific application of satellites may be considered for Asian countries, although the global nature of the issues are acknowledged.

When we consider space issues or activities, we should pay attention to two aspects. One, the technological capabilities to develop infrastructure for space activities, such as launching capabilities or satellite-development capabilities. The other is space application capabilities for utilizing such infrastructure.

Space infrastructure development

In Asia, China, India and Japan have led space activities so far. Space infrastructure development requires significant amounts of money, highly capable human resources and well-advanced industrial support. Even if these countries provide strong technical support to developing countries, it will take a long time for those developing countries to be major players in space. As such, some developing countries are investing in small satellite development to have their own communication or Earth observation satellites. It may be preferable to focus on enhancing utilization capability. In this regard, it should be welcomed that Japan is providing opportunities to launch small satellites from its launch vehicles or the International Space Station. India and China also provide small satellite launch support. These activities are excellent for capacity building or familiarization for space utilization.

Application and utilization of space activities

A tremendous increase in human activities in the last century has caused a rapid reduction of fossil fuel resources, land productivity, and global forest coverage, as well as a significant increase in fresh water consumption. Global warming causes rising sea levels, glacial melt and icecap shrinkage, resulting in extraordinary weather changes. We should always keep in mind that climate change due to the global warming and extraordinary weather is becoming a significant problem of our Earth. Disasters continuously hit our societies. Typical disasters in Asian countries include heavy rain, typhoons or cyclones, flooding, volcano eruption, earthquakes, landslides, and wild fires. Sometimes these are interlinked. When these disasters happen, various social infrastructures and life lines are destroyed. They demonstrate repeatedly how vulnerable we are against the forces of nature and how important it is to build capacities to mitigate the devastating effects of disasters. In this regard, the integrated and coordinated use of space technologies and their applications can play a crucial role in supporting disaster management by providing accurate and timely information and communication support.

Collaboration among the countries

Currently, there are two different cooperation mechanisms in Asia, namely the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) and the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF). APSCO is an intergovernmental organization with strong binding political commitments, led by China. On the other hand, APRSAF led by Japan is a voluntary organization consisting of governments, space agencies, the private sector and academia. Both organizations promote collaborative activities within the region. The limited nature of space resources will cause some governance challenges. Research and development for the application of space activities are expected to increase within the region and intimate cooperation will be pursued through these organizations.

Contribution to the sustainable development of human society on Earth calls for strengthening international collaboration and support for data sharing, and access to geospatial information, which is expected to be vital to address climate changes associated with global warming, carbon cycle, water cycle, as well as human health, food security relating to agriculture and fisheries, and natural disasters. More specifically, new projects to be carried out through regional cooperative efforts could further advance the promotion of data utilization and relevant scientific research. For example, China, India and Japan are developing global navigation systems. Positioning, navigation and timing will open a new era of space application in Asia.

As we all know, commercialization and privatization of outer space is rapidly increasing. Space activities are becoming indispensable to our daily lives and vitalizing the economy. However, we should be cautious as space activities are entirely different from the activities on the ground. We should have a regulatory framework or controlled measures of outer space activities, to prevent adverse impacts of space operations. Technical and legal investigations are strongly urged through international cooperation. One of the issues in Asia is that a country is launching vehicles into space by using missile technology. We hope that this country will use space for peaceful purposes.

Conclusion

Coordination for international cooperation and capacity building for developing countries are vital to achieve significant benefits from space and avoid catastrophic situations in the future. Utilizing space applications for sustainable development of the Earth is extremely important.

Three aspects are crucial to implement space activities for national prosperity and for sustainable development for all humankind. Firstly, space technology applications must be for users, that is, for common people; secondly, space activities should vitalize industries; and thirdly, space activities must be for future generations. To promote these activities, it will be necessary to consider the following factors; making space activities an integral part of the society at large, enhancing international cooperation at the regional and global levels, strengthening capacity for technology development, developing human resources, and securing resources.

In early 2018, Japan is scheduled to host the 2nd International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF-2) to coordinate future cooperation for space exploration. This forum will provide not only the collaboration scheme on space exploration but also a new framework of space activities among space-faring nations. Leadership from Asia is highly desired.

In addition, the year 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary since UNISPACE-I (UNISPACE+50), providing an excellent opportunity to review all the contributions of the past UNISPACE conferences to global space governance. It is an opportunity to reassess the current status and chart the future work of international cooperation at this present time when space actors, both governmental and non-governmental, are increasingly getting involved in ventures to explore space and carry out space activities. In UNISPACE+50, all Asian countries should consider thematic priorities and set up space initiatives together.

Dr Yasushi Horikawa was the former Chairman of  the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) and the Executive Director, Space Applications Mission Directorate, National Space Development Agency of Japan (now part of JAXA). He received the NASA Public Service Medal in 2002. Image credit: European Space Agency/ Flickr

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