Seven Nations Sign On To The Artemis Accords

NASA has announced the addition of seven additional countries as signatories of the Artemis Accords (text): Australia, Canada, Italy, Luxembourg, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. The announcement was made today by NASA Administrator Bridenstine at the International Astronautics Conference. Bridenstine and Acting Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations Mike Gold held a press briefing in advance of the announcement.

The Artemis Accords were first announced by NASA in May 2020. These Accords are statements of principle and guidelines for behavior on the Moon and other locations in our solar system. They are built upon - and cite as references - earlier international agreements including the historic Outer Space Treaty first signed in 1967.

The Artemis Accords were originally announced by NASA but then went through a series of reviews and comments by a variety of nations and interested parties. The revised version that resulted is what these seven nations have signed onto.

The intent of these accords is to serve as a preamble for eventual bilateral agreements between NASA and other nations. They also provide an agreed-to mechanism whereby the Outer Space Treaty and the International treaties covering space activities can be enforced. Up until now there has not really been any enforcement mechanism.

According to NASA Administrator Bridenstine the Artemis Accords are intended to be "fully consistent with the Outer Space Treaty" and will form the "broadest, most inclusive" effort in human spaceflight.

The Artemis Accords provide norms of behavior during the conduct of space activities that all nations can agree to and are structured so as to avoid any activity that might lead to conflict. But the Artemis Accords go further and spell out a number of topics that serve to enhance the ability of all participants to conduct space activities on their own or in cooperations with others: interoperability, emergency assistance, registration of space objects, the release of scientific data, avoidance of creating orbital debris - and the safe disposal of hardware and materials.

In other words the Artemis Accords embody rules of the road that everyone agrees to and seeks to enforce for the common good. The Artemis Accords work if every participant seeks to adhere to the accords and that nations that do not are pressured by the other signatories to be in compliance.

How countries join rests with how every country enters into international agreements. Seven nations have joined the U.S. in the Artemis Accords and others are working through the process of joining.

One of the largest points of contention with regard to the exploration and utilization of space is how to handle the extraction and utilization of resources. The Artemis Accords are intended to be in compliance with Article II of the Outer Space Treaty in this regard. No one is allowed to make territorial claims. According to NASA the intent of the Artemis Accords is as follows: if a nation wishes to extract resources from another world they should be allowed to do so and the resources they extract should be long to the nation that extracts them. According to Jim Bridenstine there are parallels to this on Earth: "you can extract resources from the ocean but that does not mean that you own the ocean".

I asked Bridenstine the following question:

"According to Google there are 195 countries on Earth. There are now eight nations who are party to the Artemis Accords. Back in 1966 when the original Outer Space Treaty was signed only 3 nations had launched something into space. Nonetheless, dozens of countries signed the treaty and there are now 110 signatories. Most of the nations who have signed have still not sent anything into space. With the advent of smallsats many nations are now planning to do so and enabling international partnerships are at an all-time high. Artemis Accords sound a little bit like "Outer Space Treaty 2.0" Do the Artemis Accords have a provision for nations that have yet to put something to space - an "observer" status perhaps - perhaps as away for them to "learn the ropes" in a soft power sense - or do you have to actually be a spacefaring nation in order to sign the accords? And since private companies are now mounting their own space exploration efforts, will they be encouraged to sign on to the Artemis Accords as well?"

Bridenstine replied that NASA thinks that it is important to do agreements with individual nations in a bilateral way - and that the Artemis Accords serve as a first step - a preamble - to what those eventual government to government agreements would embody. He acknowledged that not every country has the same capability or interest in participating in the Artemis program but that all contributions are welcome.

In the case of Australia, Bridenstine noted that they have a new space agency - one that is very popular amongst the public. Tod ate $150 million has been pledged to this agency - a substantial portion of which will be directed to Australia's participation in the Artemis program. Bridenstine said that the Artemis Accords provide an on-ramp for countries that allows them to participate and to grow their ability to participate using the interoperability and other aspects of the accords. Some countries may go big like Australia. Other nations have more limited resources and aspirations and may decide to focus on a piece of hardware or some technology that has a broader application among all participants. All participants are welcome.

Of course, countries are not the only players in space these days: companies have the resources that often rival those of nations and they are making their interest in space utilization quite clear. According to Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty nations are responsible for actions taken by themselves or any commercial or non-governmental concern based within their borders. From the perspective of NASA, if a company engages in activities that violate the Artemis Accords or existing treaties then NASA will reconsider the participation of that company in the Artemis program. According to Mike Gold the Artemis Accords have the added benefit of showing companies that their activities, so long as they are complaint with the accords, will be protected.

At one point during the IAC there was some confusion over statements by Roscomos head Rogozin about whether there'd be compatibility at the Gateway for Russian spacecraft to dock. Bridenstine issued a statement that sought to reiterate the concept of interoperability and that it will be in keeping with how the International Space Station program has operated for the past 20 years.

Bridenstine was also asked about China. He replied that the Artemis Accords are intended to be inclusive but that NASA is prohibited fly law from engaging in any bilateral accords with China - and that the Artemis Accords will be bilateral. "NASA will always follow the law. If Congress said that we want to engage china, NASA stands ready".

There were also questions about the Space Force and its role in the Artemis Accords. Bridenstine replied by citing an acronym "DIME" which is used in military and diplomatic circles - and it stands for Diplomatic power; Information power; Military power; and Economic power". Bridenstine said: "we are looking at Space Force for the things that we are not do - Space Force is there so that nations who challenge the U.S. will not. Gain an advantage".

NASA is currently operating under a tight deadline imposed by the White House to land people on the Moon by the end of 2024. Schedule delays and lack of full support by Congress threaten to delay these landings. In addition, the imminent election and the chance that a new Administration might delay this milestone or pivot away from it serves to inject uncertainty into the entire Artemis endeavor. That said, if it does proceed - or if something similar emerges, the need for enhanced international cooperation and rules of the road are urgently needed. One way or another the Artemis Accords will have set the stage for future global activities in space.

For a more detailed look at the origin of the accords have a look at this article from May 2020 "What Are The Artemis Accords And Why Do We Need Them?"

(Text) The Artemis Accords Principles For Cooperation In The Exploration And Use Of The Moon, Mars, Comets, And Asteroids For Peaceful Purposes

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on October 13, 2020 12:45 PM.

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