United Nations


General Assembly

Distr.: General
18 May 1999

Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

Report on the Eigth United Nations/European Space Agency Workshop on Basic Space Science: Scientific Exploration from Space, hosted by the Institute of Astronomy and Space Sciences at Al al-Bayt University on behalf of the Government of Jordan

(Mafraq, Jordan, 13-17 March 1999)

(Section IV only)


18. One conclusion of the United Nations/ESA workshops on basic space science has been a realization of the importance of the incorporation of basic space science into sustainable development plans. The rationale behind this may be summarized as follows. The world space observatory has been proposed as an important and effective means of establishing some of the necessary structures, not only for the benefit of the scientific community, but also for nations wishing to use space applications in the interest of accelerated and sustainable development. In the following section the nature of a generic world space observatory is described and a possible implementation strategy proposed.

A. Introduction

19. The post-industrial times, approaching the beginning of the next millennium, are going to bring with them one of the most important challenges ever presented to the world at large. Although globalization is driving the current economic and sociological evolution of the industrialized world, regional cultural identity still represents an extraordinarily strong force in the world. Events of the last decade have shown dramatically the strength of such human forces, which defy quantitative analysis and the absence of proper consideration of them has been one of the main problems associated with the implementation of sustainable development programmes in the second half of the twentieth century. It is now widely recognized that the implementation of sustainable development schemes will have to be based on original and innovative approaches to the development process, where sharing must be an integral part of the support given by the industrialized world.

20. History has shown that development in a socially peaceful environment is extremely difficult to achieve and that revolutionary changes, driven by intellectually advanced (and at times extreme) ideas, can become dominant. It must therefore be concluded that sustainable, culturally appropriate and sociologically stable development can only be brought about when the educational processes required for development lead to professional outlets for those whose motivation for learning and development has a broader meaning than arrival at an often locally defined socio-economic status.

21. As a consequence of the current development strategies in many developing countries, significant investment in education is not bearing the desired fruits. The reason for this is closely associated with the fact that participation in advanced science can only function efficiently in the industrialized world. Consequently, investment in education often results only in the creation of a consumer market, without the creation of the professionally well-formed, culturally and intellectually identifiable and academically oriented cadre of scientists that is necessary for sustainable development. In hindsight, it is very clear that the success of the industrial revolution was based on a fruitful interplay between the academic community and the commercial sector of the population.

22. It is remarkable that, without the relatively small fraction of the population driven by the pursuit of intellectual progress, such a synergetic process cannot be sustained in the context of its original socio-cultural climate. For the required accelerated and sustainable development essential for all future projections of the world economy during the next century to have any chance of success, quantum leaps in development in various areas are essential. Many of the areas in which such advances can be feasible and practicable are associated with space activities. In particular, space activities will allow basic space scientists to share access to and use of advanced scientific discovery without economically crippling national investment and, at the same time, will support education and encourage the development of infrastructure, which is beneficial to the whole population. Space activities can also supply mechanisms to retain the most highly trained people within the developing countries through the creation of satisfactory career paths. In this way national participation in the most advanced scientific activities can be assured and nationals of developing countries can become an active and integral part of the important group of internationally recognized and competitive associations of researchers in many fields.

23. Over the centuries, astronomy has played a major cultural role as the predecessor of all scientific and philosophical development in basic space science. This is because it uses scientific method to approach a most fundamental question, basic to many religious as well as non-religious philosophical concepts: What is the place of the people of planet Earth in the universe?

24. During the United Nations/ESA workshops on basic space science, the concept of a world space observatory has been recognized as an important tool to bring about the desired quantum leaps in development identified above.

25. The world space observatory embodies a twofold goal:

a. To create opportunities for participation at the frontiers of science, on a sustainable basis and at the national level, by all countries in the world without the need for excessive investment. In so doing, the observatory will make an important contribution to the development of an academically mature and competitive cadre in many developing countries within 5 to10 years after inception of the project by offering equal opportunities to astronomers all over the world;

b. To support worldwide collaboration and to ensure that the study of the mysteries of the universe from space can be maintained in a sustainable way by scientists from all countries. This will then not only maintain the curiosity-driven spirit of discovery that is an integral part of sustainable development, but also make a reality in the scientific world of the visionary principle that space is the province of all mankind.

B. The world space observatory: from concept to reality

26. The world space observatory would consist of a satellite observatory in a context that extends beyond the normal planning of the major space agencies. The new approach incorporated into the planning and launching of the world space observatory could result in significant cost savings as well as facilitate to a considerable decree the participation in the space sciences of currently non-"space-faring" nations. It would thus contribute to vigorous space science activity in the future.

27. The model selected will constitute a missing element in the range of tools available at present to the astrophysical community for the exploration of the universe, extending from the near solar environment to the far distant phases of evolution, when the basic building blocks of human life were being created. Even though the world space observatory has, in the first instance, been defined in the context of the ultraviolet domain, the extension of the concept to other areas that require operations based in space would be an obvious bonus that could have a major impact on the way in which research in basic space science is conducted worldwide.

28. The scientific needs in the ultraviolet domain have been clearly expressed by the international astrophysics community, as, for example, in the discussion at the ESA/NASA conference held in Seville, Spain, in November 1997. A working group was established with the following mandate:

a. To define a conceptual baseline from which to determine the issues and scientific areas in which such an observatory could have a major impact;

b. To evaluate and define the possible applications of innovative organizational and other configurations in a world space observatory;

c. To prepare for the presentation of the goals of the world space observatory to UNISPACE III (see A/CONF.184/3, para. 186) as a major activity in the context of the space sciences with the active participation of developing countries.

(a) Scientific objectives

29. The scientific objectives of the activities of the observatory in the ultraviolet domain can be summarized as follows:

a. To observe ultraviolet absorption lines in the intergalactic medium, from which to determine the evolution in chemical element abundances;

b. To trace the history of star formation in the closer reaches of the universe (at red shifts of less than 4), which covers some 80 per cent of the age of the universe and is essential for an understanding of the early phases of the evolution of matter;

c. To identify possible candidates for primitive solar systems amongst the stars, by attempting to discover dust disks around stars of all types;

d. To produce a time chart of magnetospheric interactions between the solar wind and planetary magnetospheres, as well as to investigate the associated mechanisms for deposition energy in the upper atmospheres of the planets, leading to a better understanding of atmospheric and magnetospheric phenomena on Earth;

e. To provide a quick reaction facility for the study of important targets of global interest, such as near-Earth objects and comets, which may change trajectory as a result of sudden temporary outgassing.

(b) Mission concept

30. The driving principles behind the design of the ultraviolet element are:

a. Operation of a 1-2 metre-class telescope in Earth orbit with a spectroscopic and imaging capacity specific to the ultraviolet domain (91.2-360 nanometres (nm));

b. High throughput and optimized operational and orbital efficiency;

c. Optimum benefit to be derived from the fact that ultraviolet cosmic background radiation is at a minimum around 200 nm;

d. Minimal operational costs without affecting the scientific excellence of mission products;

e. Direct access to basic space science for the international astrophysics and planetary science community;

f. Limitation of the technological developments needed for a prime science mission;

g. In-orbit integration of the major components of the mission.

31. To reach the scientific goals and objectives of the mission, the project should be structured in an integrated manner, that is, contributions to project development would be integrated internationally on the basis of an evaluation of the capability of individual participants. This would mean integration of all activities on an international level science, operations, data collection and maintenance and training and would allow the international community as a whole to benefit directly from the innovative operational model used in the world space observatory.

(c) Operational principles

32. In accordance with the objectives described above, the following mission operations profile is proposed:

a. Application of innovative engineering and management methods in order to combine the various contributions of all nations participating as appropriate to their capability;

b. Establishment of national scientific operations centres in all countries;

c. Spacecraft operations to be carried out by an integrated network of mission operations centres in the main nations contributing to implementation of the mission in accordance with final orbit requirements;

d. Location of the organizational structure where maximum scientific, educational and public participation can be assured.

33. This will require:

a. Establishment of a number of scientific operations centres in all countries expressing the wish to host them, independent of their direct contribution to the implementation of the project;

b. Centralization of a small number of mission operations centres to perform the minimal functions required to operate the mission;

c. Integration of the work of all the centres involved. Because of the worldwide distribution of the scientific operations centres, special attention will need to be paid to the coordination of their activities and to links with other satellite missions and terrestrial facilities;

d. Open access to data collected. To guarantee optimal use of the scientific data obtained by the mission, all data will be in the public domain. The scientific operations centres will publish their data after processing and quality control.

34. The concept of a world space observatory is based on:

a. Efficient observatory-like access to space;

b. Allowing scientists from developing countries to participate in cutting-edge astrophysics in their own cultural environment;

c. Maintaining the random nature of space astrophysics and catering to the needs of ultraviolet astronomy beyond the specialized capabilities of existing and currently planned missions.

35. At the present stage, the world space observatory is concerned as a free-flying satellite with in-orbit assembly that would operate within the framework of the International Space Station. This could open the way for many other possibilities that would otherwise be impossible to implement because of the excessive requirements of monolithic launches.


1. See Report of the Second United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Vienna, 9-21 August 1982 (A/CONF.101/10 and Corr. 1 and 2), para. 430.

2. Official Records of the General Assembly, Fifty-third Session, Supplement No. 20 (A/53/20), paras 48-67.

3. European Space Agency, Ultraviolet astrophysics beyond the IUE final archive: proceedings of the conference, held at Sevilla, Spain, 11-14 November 1997, W. Wamsteker and R. Gonzales Riestra, eds. (SP-413), pp. 849-855.