The final frontier: Israel signs agreement with UN space group

Boldly going where it hasn’t gone before, Israeli tech poised to help United Nations reach for the stars, and on Earth

Illustrative photo of Israeli scientists working on a  satellite (Photo by IAI via Tsahi Ben-Ami / Flash 90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli scientists working on a satellite (Photo by IAI via Tsahi Ben-Ami / Flash 90)

Israel has signed a cooperation agreement with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to develop protocols and systems to use satellite technology for life-saving activities on Earth and beyond.

Among the projects will be the use of satellites to take photos of areas where natural and other disasters take place, and the distribution of photos to rescue agencies for use in locating and identifying survivors. In the future, Israel may contribute to deep space missions.

The agreement, which came during the fifty-eighth session the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in Vienna last week, was, said Minister of Science, Technology and Space Danny Danon, “a small step into the UN agency, and a big step for Israel.”

“This agreement,” he added, “proves that Israel is a leader in space technology, and that it has a great deal to contribute to humanity in this area, especially in satellite development and research.”

In January, top UN space official Simonetta Di Pippo visited Israel, where she got a first-hand look at Israeli satellite technology, coming away “very impressed,” Danon’s office said.

COPUOS is part of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), whose job is to promote international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. That includes efforts to clean up space debris (the thousands of now-defunct satellites that orbit the earth, getting in the way of new satellites), establishing legal codes for space exploration (claims of planets by specific countries, etc.), and developing applications based on space technology to solve earthly problems like food shortages and desertification.

The organization could even conceivably sponsor Star Trek-style missions to the far end of the galaxy, according to one of the agreements sponsored by UNOOSA.

Among the organization’s interesting projects is a database of all human-launched objects orbiting the earth. Currently, there are 7,144 objects, mostly satellites (Israel has launched 17, making it the world’s 14th biggest dispatcher of satellites).

The new agreement is just a prelude to a much bigger international space-related event set for October, the 66th International Aeronautical Congress, to be held in Jerusalem for the first time. The IAC is sponsored by three of the world’s largest space exploration advocacy groups (International Astronautical Federation, International Academy of Astronautics and International Institute of Space Law), which focuses on science and exploration, space communication and navigation, space transportation, space law and much more.

While COPUOS and UNOOSA aren’t space exploration organizations, per se, one of the five treaties it has developed could be used one day to sponsor missions into deep space.

The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space “provides that states shall take all possible steps to rescue and assist astronauts in distress and promptly return them to the launching state, and that states shall, upon request, provide assistance to launching states in recovering space objects that return to Earth outside the territory of the launching state.”

Israel, as well as most Western countries, is a member of that treaty.

For Danon, however, the agreement has a more down-to-earth aspect – as an appropriate response to the ongoing attempts by numerous groups to encourage boycotts of Israel.

“As international groups continue to boycott Israeli researchers and their work,” said the minister, “we will continue to enhance our work in all areas of science, proudly displaying Israel’s name throughout the world.”

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