In October, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik. Shortly after this event, which is considered the dawn of the Space Age, the United Nations formed the Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The United States has been working closely with this Committee to help create guidelines to govern space activities ever since. Scott Pace is Executive Secretary of the National Space Council. He notes that international cooperation is a key component in the National Space Strategy:
“We don't believe that America first means America alone. Space is a regime that is not subject to sovereignty and claims of sovereignty under international law. And therefore, if we want to drive a positive environment in space, we want to drive the rules and norms of behavior in this environment. We have to cooperate and work with other countries to voluntarily come together to protect the space environment from orbital debris, to make sure we support the possibility of innovation in the private sector to work toward producing systems that support the needs of developing countries.”
Executive Secretary Pace noted that while the U.S. is a member of foundational treaties such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, participation in the Committee is also important for arranging less binding guidelines for space.
“In order to respond and make sure the space environment is sustainable for future activities -- that is dealing with things like orbital debris and congestion -- we need to move more quickly … So what we’ve taken the lead [on] with many of our friends and partners around the world, is developing non-binding guidelines, such as: how to mitigate orbital debris; how to do better registration of your space objects; what are the best practices for regulating private sector developments?”
The U.S. recently took the lead on getting twenty-one such guidelines adopted by consensus and approved by the U.N. General Assembly.
As Executive Secretary Pace noted: “We found the U.N. to be a really great place for exchanging ideas and helping other countries develop their own approaches to how they're going to operate in space.”