Credit: United Nations

There are a number of challenges related to registration of space objects and transparency of global space activities – and the United Nations’ Register of Space Objects is in need of an overhaul suggests an international team of researchers.

The paper – “Critical issues related to registration of space objects and transparency of space activities” – appears in the journal Acta Astronautica sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics.

Since 1962, the United Nations has maintained a Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Following multi-year discussion among States, the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space entered into force in 1976.

In setting up the UN’s Register of Space Objects, the belief was that a mandatory registration system would assist in the identification of space objects hurled into outer space. “However, the furnished information is often so general that it may not be as helpful in creating transparency” as had been hoped, the paper explains.


The paper provides data about the registration and non-registration of satellites and the States that have and have not complied with their legal obligations.

Furthermore, the paper focuses on the specific requirements of the Convention, the reasons for non-registration, new challenges posed by the registration of small satellites and the on-orbit transfer of satellites. Finally, the paper provides some recommendations on how to enhance the registration of space objects, on the monitoring of the implementation of the Registration Convention and consequently how to achieve maximum transparency in space activities

Open sources of information

One interesting idea advanced is the prospect of using some civilian meteorological satellites with infrared sensors to detect launches of missiles and satellites.

“It is worth examining the types of sensors on board civil meteorological satellites and see whether they can be used for the early warning and detection of launches of spacecraft and missile applications,” the paper suggests.

North Korean missile launch observed.
Credit: Digital Globe

Codes of conduct

It is proposed that Multi-lateral Technical Means (MTM) of verification should now be recognized as a viable and measure to detect and oversee space-related activities. It has also been proposed that an International Data Center (IDC) is established in support of the MTM.

“With the level of technical capabilities of most space faring nations, an MTM is now possible. Thus, MTM and IDC should be recognized not only in all the existing space-related treaties, conventions and Codes of Conduct but also in any other future measures for enhancing global space governance,” the researchers conclude.

The informative paper is authored by Ram Jakhu of McGill University’s Institute of Air & Space Law in Canada, Bhupendra Jasani from King’s College in London, and Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

It can be accessed here at:


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