Switzerland conducts most of its space activities through the European Space Agency (ESA), of which it was as a founding member. To promote its interests, Switzerland is also involved in the global bodies that govern space activities, such as the United Nations.
Space activities contribute to the understanding of our planet and the universe. They lay the foundation for a better understanding of climate change and improved management of natural resources. Space activities have many everyday applications, for example in geolocation, transport, meteorology, disaster rescue operations, healthcare and financial transactions. Furthermore, space technologies have become strategically important for national security and defence.
European Space Agency
Switzerland conducts most of its space activities through the European Space Agency (ESA), of which it was as a founding member (since 1975). Swiss research institutes and industry are therefore able to participate fully in ESA's space programmes. At ESA, Switzerland's priorities are in the fields of space science and applications, space technologies and launch vehicles. The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research leads the representation of Switzerland at ESA. The FDFA provides SERI with support on matters related to international relations.
From 2012 to 2016, Switzerland co-chaired with Luxembourg ESA's ministerial-level meetings. Marking the end of its co-presidency in December 2016, Switzerland hosted a Ministerial Council meeting in Lucerne during which the 22 ESA member states took strategic decisions concerning the agency and the further development of its programmes.
Global governance of space activities
Switzerland contributes to international efforts to ensure security in space and the long-term use of space. The FDFA represents Swiss interests in these areas at the UN and other international forums.
The UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) promotes international cooperation in space matters, including in support of sustainable development. It also works to strengthen the governance of space activities, in particular to ensure the long-term, sustainable utilisation of space. To this end, it studies the legal implications of space activities and develops international guidelines and standards.
Armed conflict in space is a real possibility; were such a conflict to occur, it would certainly harm military and civilian space applications alike. Initiatives are under way at the UN General Assembly and the Conference on Disarmament to prevent an arms race in space and to strengthen confidence- and transparency-building measures. The FDFA is participating in this work and in the discussions initiated by the European Union on an international code of conduct for outer space activities and on common principles of responsible behaviour in outer space.