Spreading the Benefits of Space Technology

Article excerpt

The UNISPACE 82 Conference discussed how all States could take advantage of space technology for economic and social development and benefit from using satellite remote sensing systems to develop and monitor their natural resources and the environment.

In the short term at least, access by all countries to the full range of space activities would require co-operation between developed and developing countries, the Conference stated, recommending that technologically advanced countries with facilities for launching satellites, conducting experimental activities in space, operating remote sensing systems or manufacturing advanced components or systems should make these facilities accessible to developing countries.

The study (A/AC.105/339 and Add.1)--"Assistance to Countries in Studying their Remote Sensing Needs and Assessing Appropriate Systems for Meeting such Needs'--was prepared by a group of experts from 11 nations: Argentina, Austria, Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Egypt, France, German Democratic Republic, Netherlands, Philippines and USSR.

Among the various possible approaches to international co-operation in remote sensing might be a simple, low-cost, internationally owned satellite data system that could make information obtained from space readily available to all nations on earth. Such a system could be based on technology of proven reliability and would be able to make data available to all countries through relatively simple national or regional ground stations. The system could be launched at a significantly lower cost than the experimental satellites that individual nations would continue to operate.

A first step towards its establishment could be creation of a group of interested countries, both space powers and major users of satellite information, to discuss organizational and financial arrangements of the system.

By the mid-1990s, if remote sensing activities were pursued nationally and co-operatively in a vigourous manner, the techology would be firmly established. Plans are alread under way for a second-generation of regionally and nationally owned remote sensing satellite systems to be in place by the mid-1990s.

Preparations for a third-generation high resolution remote sensing satellite system for use in the late 1990s or during the first decade of the 21st century should be undertaken now, taking into consideration identified needs and existing and planned satellite systems.

The report also recommended:

* Consideration of a proposal for a three-year United Nations project to define remote sensing systems to satisfy developing country needs, possibly followed by establishment of an international consortium to build and operate remote sensing systems.

* Compiling a regularly updated catalogue on how satellite remote sensing is being used, including such information as project description, sponsors and major results, which could form a part of the United Nations directory of space information and data services;

* Creating a world-wide or regional archive for remote sensing data for research in developing countries.

* Setting up "centres of excellence" in nations or regions to advise scientists and institutions in developing countries on processing, application, distribution and verification of remote sensing data;

* Offering courses at the "centres of excellence", organized by United Nations agencies, to inform regional scientists on advances made in remote sensing, to train users in depth in applications of remote sensing techniques and data to solve regional problems, and to organize, with local users, ground truth campaigns and research projects;

* Nomination by Member States of outstanding scientists and technicians for teaching and research at these centres.

International co-operation: For the next several years, at least, remote sensing systems will remain national undertakings, designed, built, financed and operated by one country that sets terms for making data or ground station agreements available to others. …