About the Author: Julie M. Rottier serves in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science.
My friends and family are often surprised when I tell them the U.S. Department of State works on space policy, and that I am a part of that effort. International cooperation is key to successful space exploration. Space diplomacy is a very delicate matter and leaves little room for error. The 40th anniversary of the moon landing this week is a reminder for me why the Department continues to advance space issues. Since the landing, much progress has been made through space exploration, which I certainly hope and expect will continue to improve our daily lives.
My office, the Office of Space and Advanced Technology (OES/SAT), handles international space policy and multilateral science and advanced technology issues for the Department of State. Among its goals are: to ensure that U.S. space policies and multilateral science activities support U.S. foreign policy objectives; to ensure that U.S. international initiatives and political commitments on space are science-based, protect national security, advance economic interests, and foster environmental protection; and to enhance U.S. space leadership and competitiveness through work with other space-faring nations.
OES/SAT has primary responsibility for U.S. representation to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPOUS), where a wide range of space policy issues are discussed. In the 1960s and 1970s, this committee developed the Outer Space Treaty and three related UN conventions, which still serve as the bedrock of international space law. UNCOPUOS has also been a vital forum for U.S. efforts to develop new international guidelines on emerging issues such as minimizing the generation of orbital debris and ensuring safe space operations and sustainable access to space. The Office maintains the official U.S. registry of objects launched into outer space, oversees implementation of the 1998 Intergovernmental Agreement on the International Space Station, and provides support to NASA for a network of overseas emergency landing sites for the Space Shuttle. OES/SAT leads interagency coordination on all civil space-related international agreements implementing important NASA, NOAA, and USGS cooperation with other space agency partners, and plays a key role in the implementation of National Space Policy focused on dual-use space applications such as space-based positioning, navigation, and timing, satellite-based remote sensing and earth observation, and the monitoring of physical phenomena in the Sun-Earth system (space weather).
Currently, OES/SAT office is coordinating a broad diplomatic effort to encourage acceptance of the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) as a worldwide standard for satellite-based navigation. In 2004, an agreement was reached with the European Union (EU) to ensure compatibility and interoperability of GPS and the EU’s new global navigation satellite system (GNSS) called Galileo. Bilateral discussions are also underway with other GNSS providers such as Russia, Japan, and India. As a member of the UN Action Team on GNSS resulting from the Third UN Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III), held in 1999, OES/SAT, representing the United States, was instrumental in the creation of the International Committee GNSS (ICG), an informal body bringing together providers and users of GNSS technology to promote compatibility and interoperability among systems, cooperation on matters of mutual interest related to civil satellite-based positioning, navigation, timing, and value-added services, and promoting the use of GNSS to support sustainable development, particularly in the developing countries. The U.S. hosted the third full meeting of the ICG in Pasadena in December 2008.
OES/SAT represents the State Department in a range of international deliberations on advanced technology issues. The office leads an interagency effort to coordinate U.S. international activities in the emerging field of nanotechnology and leads U.S. participation in several multilateral bodies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Working Party on Nanotechnology. Similarly, the office represents the State Department in the negotiation and implementation of the ITER nuclear fusion test reactor project through the ITER organization and in the NATO Science Committee as well as other multilateral science organizations.