Excerpts from the BRICS Heads of Space Agencies Meeting.

Excerpts from the BRICS Heads of Space Agencies Meeting.

The formation of the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Russian Federation, the Republic of India, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of South Africa (BRICS) in 2006 was initiated by Russia with the goal of fostering peace, security, development, and cooperation, as well as supporting multilateral collaborations. In 2022, the states established the BRICS Joint Committee on Space Cooperation.

This committee is critical in allowing member space agencies to collaborate more closely on environmental protection, disaster prevention and mitigation, and addressing climate change through effective data sharing and utilization. Its formation is a significant step forward for BRICS space cooperation, increasing the effectiveness and impact of member countries’ space activities.

The BRICS committee comprises ten countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates. Under Russia’s leadership, the heads of BRICS space agencies gathered in Moscow on May 23, 2024, for a two-day summit to discuss various facets of international space cooperation, deliberate on ongoing and prospective multilateral space initiatives, and adopt joint documents.

In his welcome address, Yury Borisov, Director General of Roscosmos, highlighted that the BRICS countries collectively operate over 1,200 national orbital satellites in space, considering the recent addition of new member countries to the association. The Director-General also proposed an initiative to establish a global system to guarantee the safety of space operations. This global system would be constructed around an accessible information platform with software capable of exchanging data and monitoring the situation in near-Earth orbit, providing real-time updates on space debris, potential collisions, and other safety concerns.

Furthermore, the BRICS countries also plan to exchange data regarding natural phenomena in space, including solar activity, galactic radiation, and the paths of potentially hazardous asteroids and other celestial objects. This system will be inclusive, welcoming participation from all, regardless of their level of expertise, technical resources, objectives, or terms of engagement. The process of data exchange and sharing will be governed by a comprehensive data sharing agreement, ensuring the security and privacy of all participating countries’ data.

“Both curious enthusiasts and amateur astronomers, as well as professionals in space activities, including regional or national monitoring systems, will be able to connect to the platform. Based on their choice and desire, the partners will be offered the opportunity to receive information, products, and services and to offer their own based on their demands,” commented Yury Borisov.

To advance the BRICS space activities and foster the peaceful use of outer space, the participants considered a draft joint statement by the Heads of BRICS Space Agencies. This statement urges the international community to unite in preventing the deployment of any weaponry in space and to abstain from actions that could jeopardise the integrity of the space environment and the enduring viability of space missions. This includes refraining from utilising civilian space infrastructure for undisclosed purposes. This commitment to space safety and integrity underscores the responsible and trustworthy approach of the BRICS countries towards space exploration and utilization.

At the forefront of the discussions was the BRICS Remote Sensing Satellite Constellation Cooperation Initiative, a testament to the collaborative spirit of the member countries. Established in 2015, this initiative aims to form the BRICS Remote Sensing Satellite Virtual Constellation and implement a data-sharing framework among the BRICS space agencies. The ultimate goal is to address global challenges such as climate change, major disasters, and environmental protection. This ambitious initiative will be executed in two phases, further underscoring the collective commitment of the BRICS nations to international space cooperation.

In the first phase, a virtual constellation will be created using existing Earth remote sensing satellites. The second phase will involve establishing an actual satellite constellation. Integrating the five countries’ remote sensing satellites and ground receiving stations for coordinated network observation will reduce the investment needed for building individual satellites and ground stations and significantly enhance each satellite’s imaging capabilities. This will increase efficiency in BRICS satellite observations, resulting in a “value-added” observational impact.

Furthermore, Russia’s initiative to establish a space council within the BRICS group received significant interest among member states, including South Africa.

“We see the Russian proposal to create a BRICS space council. We will develop our cooperation in this direction; South Africa supports this initiative,” Humbulani Mudau, the Executive Director of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), stated. Beyond supporting Russia’s initiative, South Africa’s involvement in other collaborative projects with Russia, including its partnership with the country to Install PanEOS Station , the establishment of a Space Debris Monitoring Facility, and proposed projects in terms of “the extraction of mineral resources, specifically, platinum, issues overseen by Russian Railways, the Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation and the use of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) base station, will significantly contribute to the success of the proposed space council and enhance international space cooperation.

Furthermore, Egypt, which recently joined BRICS, has been involved in discussions on space collaboration with Roscosmos to foster its space economy’s growth. These discussions encompassed various areas such as satellite manufacturing and launches, the development of manned programmes, and the establishment of surface space infrastructure. Shedding light on Cairo’s involvement in BRICS, Sherif Sedky, the head of the Egyptian Space Agency, emphasised in an interview with RT during the space agency chiefs meeting on Thursday that Egypt’s membership in BRICS facilitates the extension of its longstanding relations with Russia to other member states within the organisation.

On the other hand, this is the first time Ethiopia will attend the BRICS Heads of Space Agencies meeting. This milestone will present an opportunity for Ethiopia to establish new partnerships and collaborations within the space community. Attending the BRICS meeting gives Ethiopia access to valuable knowledge, expertise, and best practices in space technology and exploration. This can support Ethiopia in strengthening its space programme and building local space science and technology capacity.

“It is our first meeting to join the heads of space agencies. So it’s a perfect opportunity for us to gain experience in the existing opportunities,” Abdissa Yilma, Director General of the Ethiopian Space Science and Geospatial Institute, stated.

This collaborative approach to space activities, where all member countries contribute their unique perspectives, resources, and expertise, is a key strength of the BRICS space cooperation and a testament to the shared commitment to advancing space science and technology for the benefit of all.