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Multilateral negotiations on space issues

In addition to engaging in negotiations within the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA) on the formulation and implementation of the European Space Policy (ESP), the MAE is also involved in the discussions on space-related issues considered by United Nations agencies.

The MAE also sits on international satellite regulatory bodies (IGO/Eutelsat, IMSO/Inmarsat, ITSO/Intelsat) alongside the Ministry for Industrial Renewal.

Lastly, the MAE plays a part in formulating France’s position at meetings of Cospas-Sarsat (the international satellite system for search and rescue).

United Nations organisations and space security Issues relating to space are examined in two UN fora: the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and the Conference on Disarmament.

Much of international space law has originated from COPUOUS, including the treaties governing space activities and the principles adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and other resolutions clarifying the implementation of that law. COPUOS and its two subcommittees (the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee) address issues such as space debris, the use of space systems for disaster relief support, the use of nuclear power sources in outer space, and the registration of objects launched into outer space.

The MAE plays its part in maintaining the consistency of the French and European positions in multilateral fora, particularly as regards ensuring that the programmatic aspects of missions undertaken within the European framework (European Union, European Space Agency) comply fully with international space law.

At the 52nd session of COPUOS (3-12 June 2009), at the instigation of France, an item was added to the agenda for the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee meeting of February 2010 on the "long-term sustainability of space activities". This issue, addressed for the first time at the February 2010 meeting, covers a wide range of subjects (space debris, space traffic management, the impact of space weather phenomena on operational space systems, etc.) affecting space activities conducted by States or international organisations and the activities of satellite operators.

The Conference on Disarmament has a permanent agenda, one item of which is the "prevention of an arms race in outer space".

In addition, in response to Resolution 61/75 of the United Nations General Assembly (2007), the European Union drew up a first draft of a Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, published during the French Presidency of the European Union (Council of meeting 8 December 2008). A revised draft of the code was adopted by the EU Council on 27 September 2010.

The MAE is actively involved in France’s consideration of these issues, which form part of the framework of transparency and confidence-building in outer space and are likely to affect space activities, whether for civilian or dual purposes or conducted for reasons of defence and security.

International satellite regulatory bodiesIn cooperation with the Ministry for Industrial Renewal, the MAE determines the positions adopted by France at meetings of the international satellite regulatory bodies (IGO/Eutelsat, ITSO/Intelsat and IMSO/Inmarsat).

The European Telecommunications Satellite Organisation Eutelsatis responsible for overseeing the Eutelsat SA operating company and ensuring its observance of the Basic Principles set out in the amended Convention that came into effect on 28 November 2002. Eutelsat SA, which is headquartered in France, operates a fleet of 28 satellites in geostationary orbits covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa, making it one of the world’s three biggest satellite operators. The Basic Principles that Eutelsat SA is required to observe are public service/universal service obligations in the provision of services connected to the public switched telephone network and of audiovisual services and future services, pan-European coverage by the satellite system, non-discrimination and fair competition.

The MAE sits on the Eutelsat IGO Assembly of Parties and on the Advisory Committee that examines any issues that might affect the operations of Eutelsat SA and in particular its ability to observe the Basic Principles. The impact of the French Space Operation Act of 3 June 2008 on the operations of Eutelsat SA was examined by both these bodies.

Since mid-2009, the activities of Eutelsat IGO and the operating company whose activities it oversees have had to cope with new phenomena such as attempts at jamming satellite television broadcasts. As a company constituted under French law, Eutelsat SA is required to implement the provisions of the Audiovisual Media Service (AVMS) Directive on programmes retransmitted by satellite and received in any European Union country.

The MAE plays a central role in dealing with such cases, which were initially more technical in nature but are now taking on an increasingly significant political dimension.

The International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (ITSO) acts as the supervisory authority ensuring that the Intelsat Ltd company meets its public service obligations for the provision of internal telecommunications services. Intelsat Ltd, which is headquartered in Luxembourg with its main offices in Washington, is the biggest commercial satellite operator in the world, with a fleet of 50 satellites.

In the wake of privatisation in 2001, France (with the support of many ITSO member States) emphasised the importance of compliance by the notifying administrations (the United States and the United Kingdom) with the Core Principles as regards the management of orbital locations and associated frequency assignments that make up the Common Heritage of the parties (149 States). The amendment to article XII of the ITSO Agreement, adopted at the 31st Assembly of Parties (20-23 March 2007), sets out the terms on which Intelsat Ltd is required to comply with its public service obligations, particularly as regards maintaining global connectivity for dependent countries.

The International Mobile Satellite Organisation (IMSO) is responsible for ensuring that, following its restructuring, Inmarsat Ltd (operator of 4 satellites) fulfils its public service obligations, namely the provision of mobile satellite communication systems as part of the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) and its role as a coordinator of the Long-range Identification and Tracking of Ships (LRIT) system established by the International Maritime Organisation.

Satellites: membership of Cospas-Sarsat France is one of the four States parties, alongside the United States, Canada and the USSR (now Russia), to the agreement on the international Cospas-Sarsat programme, an international satellite system for search and rescue, that was signed on 1 July 1988 and now has 41 participating States and organisations. The system currently consists of six satellites in low-earth orbit and six in geostationary orbit. Under the terms of its obligations, France permanently supplies two instruments to the Sarsat Space Segment. The system, which comprises 1,200,000 distress radio beacons (on 406 MHz), of which over 23,000 are registered in France, has assisted in the rescue of close on 32,000 individuals since it was introduced.

The MAE is a member of the Cospas-Sarsat National Steering Committee, the body coordinating France’s participation in the programme. It also contributes its views on questions relating to cooperation between international organisations (EUMETSAT, ICAO, IMO, ITU) and to the transitioning of Europe’s contribution to the Cospas-Sarsat system towards the provision of search and rescue (SAR) transponders aboard satellites in the Galileo constellation.


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