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The UK Space Agency Leadership period


18 September 2023

The UK Space Agency Leadership period

On Thursday, 27 April 2023, the UK Space Agency formally took over the leadership of the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters (the Charter) from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The Charter leadership is rotated every six months so in October 2023 the UK Space Agency will pass the leadership over to EUMETSAT and the Canadian Space Agency.

The Charter's membership pledge uses our collective resources to provide satellite data and assistance to countries who need it in the event of a major disaster. The service runs 24/7 and at no cost to the user. Through systems and services, we make satellite data available to emergency responders. This humanitarian service saves lives, livelihoods and infrastructure and relies on the best efforts of its members to succeed, and succeed it has. With over 800 activations to date the Charter continues to support those in need.

A report published in May by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) highlighted that the number of weather-related disasters has increased five-fold over the last 50 years, with the economic toll up by a factor of 8. While these events are becoming more frequent, and the impacts more wide-reaching, improvements in early warning systems and disaster management also mean that less people are losing their lives due to disasters. Initiatives such as the Charter, alongside organisations such as UN-SPIDER - UN Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response; and Sentinel Asia, are utilising EO data to support emergency responses to help vulnerable communities across the globe.

Although the Charter relies on the 'voluntary best efforts' of its members, you will not meet a more dedicated group of individuals who, through consensus, keep pushing this initiative forward with enthusiasm and commitment. Members meet every six months to reflect on progress and set direction for the next period, to ensure that this vital service continues to deliver.

In April 2023 the UK Space Agency hosted the Charter membership at the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI) at the University of Edinburgh. This was the first time the membership had held an in-person meeting for 3.5 years. There were new members to welcome and old friends meeting again after an absence. What defines this collective is a sense of duty to the global community where politics can truly be left at the door. It has been mentioned before that borders disappear when we look down on the Earth from space, but never has this felt more true than during the meetings held at the ECCI over those five days in Edinburgh. It was truly a privilege to host the membership in the UK, and to take on the leadership of this important initiative.

The Charter membership at the ECCI in April 2023

Alongside hosting the membership at the ECCI the UK Space Agency also arranged a student outreach event for students from the University of Edinburgh, alongside the Space Sector Business Development Lead at University of Edinburgh, Kristina Tamane.

In May the UK Space Agency highlighted the work of the Charter at the first Global Space Conference on Climate Change organised by the International Astronautical Federation through a panel session which explored the role of space agencies and the Charter in supporting disaster responses globally.

In June the UK Space Agency also hosted a side event at the plenary session of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS) alongside UN-SPIDER and Sentinel Asia to explore the concept of Universal Access, the principle which allows any country to request a Charter activation, regardless of whether they are an authorised user.

Both events were well received and provided an opportunity to share the important work of the Charter with a new audience.

Discussing the Charter at the GLOC (left) and at UN-COPUOS (right)

Over the six months of the UK's leadership period, the UK Space Agency has been responsible for coordinating all Charter activations and making sure the right people get the right data in their hour of need, but behind us will always be the powerful collective that make up the Charter membership.