What the Artemis Accords Mean for Space Exploration
Next week’s lunar launch is just the beginning.
As the world counts down to the scheduled Aug. 29 liftoff of the Artemis 1 mission, which will use a Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket to send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the moon, NASA and its partners international organizations are already planning for the future.
More than 20 countries have signed the NASA-led Artemis Accords, a set of agreements that set out a framework for responsible exploration of the moon.
And Artemis will have an international flavor in the future. For example, Canada will get a seat on Artemis 2 thanks to its contribution of Canadarm3 robotics to the future Gateway lunar-orbiting station. And Japan will also fly an astronaut on a future Artemis lunar mission.
But in the longer term, NASA plans to use the agreements as a set of standards to establish how countries should conduct space exploration more generally and to govern how they can work together on missions in Earth orbit. , on the Moon or even on Mars.
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A NASA spokesperson told Space.com via email that the goal of the agreements is “safe, responsible, and transparent behavior in space,” which also includes discussion of “the preservation and protection of the space environment to ensure a safe and sustainable future in space”. for everyone.”
The agency has pledged that the agreements will include both nations experienced in space (such as Canada, Japan and European Space Agency member states) and those newer to the frontier. final (like New Zealand and Bahrain). Notably, Russia is not a participant – no surprise given its ongoing invasion of Ukraine (an act that has been condemned by other major space players) and Russia’s recent announcement that which it planned to withdraw from the ISS agreement at some point after 2024.
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NASA presents the agreements as reinforcing the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which underpins international legal standards for space exploration. The imminent launch of Artemis 1, the spokesperson added, is a turning point in which the agency hopes to establish more detailed guidelines while Artemis is still young.
“By bringing together as many signatories as soon as possible, we hope to develop a body of knowledge, informed by collective operational experiences, that will advance broader goals through established bodies such as the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of outer space. [COPUOS]”said the spokesperson.
“Even if some countries cannot make direct short-term contributions to lunar activities, their support for the principles of the Artemis Accords will reinforce the need for common values for the exploration and use of space within the International community.”
Space lawyer Michael Gold said he agreed the agreements aimed to foster an environment in space “conducive to international collaboration and conducive to growth” with clear rules and expectations to enable agencies space and companies to do business.
Gold helped lead and draft the implementation of the Artemis Accords under former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, while Gold was acting associate administrator of the agency’s Office of International and Interagency Relations. (Today, Gold is executive vice president of civil space and external affairs at aerospace company Redwire Space.)
The agreements, he said, are intended to cover civilian activities so companies that land on the moon on NASA’s behalf are covered by the agreement. This is especially crucial given that NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services missions encourage private companies to deliver science, hardware and other essentials to the Moon to support the Artemis program.
“All of these are important precedents,” Gold said of the deals. Bringing in other countries aims to ensure the stability of Artemis, as international programs tend to have more financial and technological resources, he added.
But greater stability, Gold said, would come if national security programs and commercial space programs could also align with global standards of behavior. “Much of our conflict on Earth is caused by misperceptions and miscommunications, and if we are to get into conflict, at least let it be intentional,” Gold said.
For example, he said national security standards should govern issues such as proximity is too close when it comes to satellites approaching each other in Earth orbit. Such encounters are more frequent than ever due to the growth of broadband constellations like SpaceX’s Starlink and periodic space junk events, like a much-criticized Russian anti-satellite test in November 2021.
“I believe that if we’re explicit, if we’re public about these things, that will give us the best chance we have of avoiding conflict, especially through mistakes and misperceptions,” Gold said. He called on the UN’s COPUOS to open seats for private sector companies to allow “governments and companies [entities] to work together.”