Eight Countries Sign Artemis Accords

Eight Countries Sign Artemis Accords

In what NASA officials insist is “just the beginning,” the first tranche of countries have agreed to the Artemis Accords setting forth principles of behavior for partners in the U.S.-led Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon. Joining the United States are Australia, Canada, Japan, Italy, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. More are expected to sign later this year with additional countries joining in the years ahead.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Acting Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations Mike Gold revealed the top-level principles of the Artemis Accords in May.

Together with the State Department, NASA has been working since then with an initial group of potential Artemis partners on a bilateral basis to refine the wording of the Accords, which were released today in conjunction with the International Astronautical Congress.

In a pre-recorded video where representatives of the eight Signatories around the globe could be seen signing the documents, Bridenstine asserted the principles are “simple, intuitive, and universal.”

Representatives of the “Artemis 8” sign the Artemis Accords: Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States. Screengrab from pre-recorded video released by NASA at the International Astronautical Congress October 13, 2020.

“I am here today to talk about the future, a future that is peaceful, free of conflict, and one where humanity explores and develops the Moon and Mars in harmony. … With these Accords, the destination is more than the Moon and Mars, it’s about peace and prosperity.” — Jim Bridenstine

During a media roundtable yesterday, Gold said the Accords “don’t resolve every issue,” but “identify fundamentally what we agree upon.”

“We don’t have all the answers, but what we do have is some really good principles,” analogous to the principles laid out in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST). The OST “is not prescriptive,” which is why it is still relevant more than 50 years later, so these Accords are not prescriptive either.

He and Bridenstine describe the Accords as “operationalizing” the OST.  Bridenstine went so far in the video today to say that countries that do not comply with the OST “cannot be part of the Artemis program.”

Gold said the final version of the Accords is “substantially improved from the feedback” the United States received from the other countries during the bilateral negotiations. They “belong to the partners as much as us.”

Critics argue that such far-reaching principles should have been developed in a multilateral forum like the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space where the OST and other U.N. space treaties were formulated, not bilaterally.

Bridenstine told reporters yesterday that would have taken too long. “We’re moving very fast.”

Gold said this initial “Artemis 8” group of countries was limited in size just for that reason, to hasten negotiations by working with countries already interested in being part of Artemis and that share the principles it is putting forth.

Other countries could join by the end of the year, Gold said, and more will come in the future.  Bridenstine said yesterday that the ultimate goal is to “have all the nations of the world sign on.” As more join and experience is gained operating in deep space, “I think there is a lot of room to amend the Accords and make them even better for the future.”

The Accords are not intended to apply directly to private sector companies, but Bridenstine noted yesterday that Article VI of the OST requires governments to authorize and supervise activities of their non-governmental entities.

As summarized by NASA, the principles of the Accords are:

  • Peaceful Exploration: All activities conducted under the Artemis program must be for peaceful purposes
  • Transparency: Artemis Accords signatories will conduct their activities in a transparent fashion to avoid confusion and conflicts
  • Interoperability: Nations participating in the Artemis program will strive to support interoperable systems to enhance safety and sustainability
  • Emergency Assistance: Artemis Accords signatories commit to rendering assistance to personnel in distress
  • Registration of Space Objects: Any nation participating in Artemis must be a signatory to the Registration Convention or become a signatory with alacrity
  • Release of Scientific Data: Artemis Accords signatories commit to the public release of scientific information, allowing the whole world to join us on the Artemis journey
  • Preserving Heritage: Artemis Accords signatories commit to preserving outer space heritage
  • Space Resources: Extracting and utilizing space resources is key to safe and sustainable exploration and the Artemis Accords signatories affirm that such activities should be conducted in compliance with the Outer Space Treaty
  • Deconfliction of Activities: The Artemis Accords nations commit to preventing harmful interference and supporting the principle of due regard, as required by the Outer Space Treaty
  • Orbital Debris: Artemis Accords countries commit to planning for the safe disposal of debris

The full text is posted on NASA’s website along with the signing video.

Artemis is the name of NASA’s program to land the “first woman and the next man” on the Moon by 2024. That is intended to initiate an era of sustainable lunar exploration and utilization that would in turn serve as a proving ground toward enabling people to travel to Mars someday.

The plan to return astronauts to the Moon has bipartisan support in Congress, but not necessarily by 2024. That date was chosen because the landing would take place during a Trump presidency if he is reelected in November, not based on technical or budgetary feasibility. Prior to March 26, 2019, NASA’s plan was to land on the Moon in 2028, which many think is more realistic.

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