The World Trade Organisation. The World Bank. The World Meteorological Organisation. The World Health Organisation. Many international organisations are operating in the world today, each seeking to unite national efforts and to advocate for relevant critical issues. But, considering the minefield of problems in space exploration and the growing need for collaboration – should there be a World Space Organisation as well?
The idea of creating a World Space Organisation – or rather, a World Space Agency (WSA) – is not a new one. The idea is as old as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), which was established in 1962.
But what about UNOOSA? Isn’t it a ‘world space agency’?
UNOOSA is responsible for promoting international cooperation in space, implementing space law and preparing publications, reports and presentations regarding space technology and space law. UNOOSA also maintains the official registry of all objects launched into outer space and even manages a 24-hour hotline for satellite imagery requests during disasters. But, what UNOOSA isn’t, is a centralised global agency which pools countries’ resources to foster tighter collaborations between nations. And this is where the need for a World Space Agency arises.
The Need for A World Space Agency
As of 2017, 72 different government space agencies exist. And this number is only growing, with Australia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and a coalition of South American countries also declaring the establishment of their own national space agencies over the next few years. The remaining 123 countries in the world without a national space agency are predominantly located in developing regions.
It’s not just unjust that wealthy governments and corporations have a monopoly on the ‘final frontier’ – it’s also against the mission of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty to ensure that ”the exploration of outer space shall be done to benefit all countries and that space shall be free for exploration and use by all the States.” There’s a nuance, however, between ”equal share” and ”equal access”.
The creation of a World Space Agency would act as a catalyst for joint international efforts into space exploration, rational management of resources and the strengthening of cooperation between states. It would also allow funds, technology, labour and finances to be centrally managed in an independent fashion to benefit all countries – not just those with existing government space agencies.
Collaborations between both countries and industries are what will help us accomplish the next milestone in human space exploration: Mars. President Obama thinks that this task will be achieved by the mid-2030s, while Elon Musk has plans for SpaceX to do it by 2024.
International collaborations are already prevalent in the world. For example, look at the International Space Station – its construction and operation involves NASA working with 15 other countries, including Russia, Canada, Japan, Brazil and members of the European Space Agency. Therefore, the tasks of a World Space Agency should first be confined to those that cannot be undertaken through other forms of international cooperation.
While UNOOSA is responsible for monitoring the application of space law, especially law regarding registration, recovery liability, satellites with nuclear power sources and debris, a World Space Agency could thus encourage the sharing of space technologies with developing countries, the training of specialists, and wide circulation of data gathered from remote sensing satellites, which can be important for geological, meteorological and agricultural planning of developing economies.
However, the greatest potential for a World Space Agency is in igniting new interest in space exploration. It would captivate a generation. As said by Stephen Hawking at the 2017 Starmus Festival in Norway, “to leave Earth demands a concerted global approach, everyone should join in… we need to rekindle the excitement of the early days of space travel in the 60s.”
The Barriers to a World Space Agency
While the benefits of a World Space Agency may seem clear, we need to be pragmatic. Given current economic and political structures, and our dislike of ineffective, large, additional levels of bureaucracy (just look at Brexit), a World Space Agency will probably not be a reality for several years…if not decades.
Regional cooperation on space exploration will more likely precede world space exploration. Much like the European Space Agency, the African Union and the Union of South America Nations are seeking to develop continental space agencies of their own. With New Zealand’s space agency being established in 2017, and Australia’s in 2018… who knows? Perhaps our space agencies will team up and Scott Ludlam and Barnaby Joyce will be our first astronauts?
With this in mind, Australia and New Zealand are more economically developed countries. The key steps to laying the foundations for a World Space Agency will be considering the needs of developing countries so that they can partake in such a project.