2021 Outer Space Security Conference

Geneva & Online
2021 Outer Space Security Conference

Space is increasingly critical to modern life on Earth. However, there is growing concern that as space becomes more economically and strategically important, tensions between different space actors could lead to conflict. Such a conflict could have devastating consequences for humankind.

This two-day flagship event provided a unique forum for the Geneva-based diplomatic community—as well as visiting experts from military, industry and academic backgrounds—to jointly consider challenges related to security in outer space and to exchange ideas regarding solutions.

Watch the recordings

Read the Conference Report


27 September 11:00-17:30 CEST – 28 September 10:00-18:00 CEST

This hybrid event will be held in person in the Palais des Nations, Geneva and it will be livestreamed, with the possibility of interactive participation.


Participants can join the event either in-person or virtually:  

  • To participate in-person, please register here.
    • Please note due to Covid-19, participants who: within the past 14 days have been in close contact with a person testing positive for Covid-19, or experience cold- or flu-like symptoms (however mild) are not authorized to enter UNOG and are kindly requested to attend meetings remotely instead.
  • To participate virtually, please register here. The link to access the broadcast of OS21 will be sent to registered participants one day prior to the event. 


DAY 1 – Conference Opening 11:00-11:30 CEST

  • Robin Geiss, Director, UNIDIR

Keynote addresses

  • Why the international community needs to build a sustainable space security architecture
    Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, UNODA
  • The importance of a peaceful space domain
    Sirisha Bandla, Vice President Government Affairs and Research Operations, Virgin Galactic


Panel I – From the enactment of the Outer Space Treaty to now: how has the space domain changed? 11:30-13:00 CEST

  • The Outer Space Treaty entered into force in 1967 during the Cold War, a time of great geopolitical tensions in the international community. The drafters hoped that it would aid in preventing those tensions from reaching the space domain, a feat that the Outer Space Treaty failed to fully achieve. This led to the emergence of PAROS, an objective that has not changed much since it originated more than 40 years ago. This panel will discuss how the space domain has changed, particularly in recent years with the emergence of new State actors as well as non-governmental entities, such as commercial companies, and how that affects arms control and disarmament efforts.
  • Aaron Bateman, PhD candidate, Johns Hopkins University
  • Cassandra Steer, Senior Lecturer, Mission Specialist with ANU Institute of Space, Australian National University College of Law
  • Guoyu Wang, Associate Professor and Dean of the Academy of Air, Space Policy and Law, Beijing Institute of Technology
  • Moderator: Ruth Hill, Counsellor, Disarmament, Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations in Geneva


Panel II — Space threats and challenges, 14:00-15:30 CEST 

  • Over the past year, several countries have carried out tests of counterspace technology, as well as ambiguous operations that have raised alarms and incited protests and criticisms. Many States’ space policies continue to shift towards treating outer space as a contested, operational, or even warfighting, domain. This panel will discuss drivers of an arms race in outer space including geopolitical rivalries, enabling capabilities, and the accelerated development of arms. 
  • Wen Zhou, Legal Adviser, International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Benjamin Silverstein, Research Analyst, Space Project, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Haiyang Lai, Deputy Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China
  • Moderator: Victoria Samson, Washington Office Director, Secure World Foundation


Panel III — The dual-use nature of space assets and their potential impacts on outer space security, 16:00-17:30 CEST 

  • States have come to rely on dual-capable satellites to serve both civilian functions and military needs. This trend has increased with the emergence of commercial actors. Furthermore, it is often difficult to discern whether the military capabilities of a satellite are for defensive or offensive purposes. This ambiguity gives space actors considerable freedom of action, but it also increases the potential of threats to their interests and technology in space. This panel will explore the implications of dual-use technologies for space security, as well as the role played by intent and behaviour in the use of these assets. 
  • Dmitry Stefanovich, Research Fellow, Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences
  • Laura Grego, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, Laboratory for Nuclear Security and Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Moderator: Almudena Azcárate Ortega, Associate Researcher – Space & Missiles, UNIDIR


DAY 2 – Tools and Approaches to enhance security in Outer Space


Panel IV — Non-binding norms and Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures (TCBMs), 10:00-11:30 CEST

  • In recent years, several countries have proposed the implementation of non-binding norms to address space security related issues, including UNGA Resolution 75/36 on “Reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours”, and proposals around “Transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities”, “No first placement of weapons in outer space”, and 3SOS. Also relevant are norms not built specifically for the space domain, but that directly affect it, such as The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). This panel will examine the role and limits of non-binding measures in addressing concerns related to space security. 
  • Amb. Aidan Liddle, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, United Kingdom Delegation to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva
  • Amb.Gustavo Ainchil, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Argentine Republic to the International Organizations in Vienna, HCoC Chair, Argentina
  • Jessica West, Senior Researcher, Project Ploughshares
  • Jinyuan Su, Professor of International Law, Wuhan University
  • Konstantin Vorontsov, Acting Deputy Director, Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation
  • Moderator: Xavier Pasco, Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique


Panel V — Legally binding measures, 12:00-13:30 CEST 

  • Legally binding measures have traditionally been viewed as the ‘gold standard’ for arms control and disarmament mechanisms. Although there are currently no legally binding treaties on the issue of preventing an arms race in outer space, several members of the international community have put forward proposals over the years. This panel will discuss the process needed to reach a successful binding agreement and consider the key issues that such an instrument must consider.
  • Amb. Li Song, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary for Disarmament Affairs and Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Other International Organizations in Switzerland
  • Kazuto Suzuki, Professor, Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Tokyo
  • Raji Rajagopalan, Director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology, Observer Research Foundation
  • Andrey Belousov, Minister Plenipotentiary, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN in Geneva
  • Moderator: Patricia Lewis, Director, International Security Programme, Chatham House


Panel VI — Verification mechanisms: how technology can aid in ensuring compliance with space security regulations, 14:30-16:00 CEST 

  • Technological advances, particularly in the field of space situational awareness, are enabling a clearer and more detailed picture of space activities, particularly in geosynchronous orbit. This panel will discuss how, through the use of these ever-developing technologies, it could become possible to better understand the actions of others in space and more effectively verify certain types of agreements on space security challenges.
  • Moriba Jah, Associate Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mathematics, Oden Institute for Computation Engineering and Sciences, University of Texas at Austin
  • Regina Peldszus, Senior Policy Officer (seconded from German Space Agency at DLR), Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs & Energy 
  • Curtis Hernandez, Director for Government Relations, LeoLabs
  • Moderator: Daniel Porras, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications, Secure World Foundation


Panel VII — Wider governance measures: the role of non-governmental entities and non-traditional stakeholders in contributing to space security, 16:30-18:00 CEST 

  • States no longer are the only stakeholders in space. Non-governmental entities, such as commercial space companies, have become particularly prominent in recent years. Collaboration with these non-traditional stakeholders, as well as with academic research could lead to novel and diverse approaches to discussing space security. As dynamics continue to change in the space environment, their input could provide great value to the objective of preventing an arms race in outer space, and identifying its drivers in order to manage and mitigate them. This panel will explore how collaboration with and inclusion of these non-traditional stakeholders can aid in achieving the goals of PAROS.
  • David Bertolotti, Director of Institutional and International Affairs, EUTELSAT
  • Nobu Okada, Founder and CEO, Astroscale
  • Abimbola Alale, Managing Director, Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT)
  • Hui Du, Senior Engineer, Office of the President, China Academy of Space Technology
  • Jorge Del Rio Vera, Scientific Affairs Officer, UNOOSA
  • Michael Newman, Legal Officer, UNOOSA
  • Moderator: Michael Spies, Acting Head of the Science, Technology and International Security Unit, UNODA


Concluding remarks

  • Robin Geiss, Director, UNIDIR