Harris to Announce International Lunar Astronaut, Mission Authorization Framework At Space Council Meeting

Harris to Announce International Lunar Astronaut, Mission Authorization Framework At Space Council Meeting

Vice President Kamala Harris will lead a meeting of the National Space Council this afternoon that includes representatives of all 33 countries that have signed the Artemis Accords. Among other things, she will announce that an international astronaut will land on the Moon alongside American astronauts by the end of the decade. She also will release a policy framework on mission authorization as a companion to proposed legislation sent to Congress last month.

Vice President Kamala Harris

Today’s Space Council meeting will be the third under Harris’s leadership.  At the last meeting in September 2022, she tasked the Council with developing a proposal for how the U.S. government should ensure compliance with Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty that requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of non-government entities like companies — called “mission authorization.”  Some commercial activities are already regulated, but a growing number of new or “novel” types of activities are not covered by those regulations like satellite servicing or commercial space stations.

The Space Council sent its proposal to Congress as draft legislation on November 15, less than an hour before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee began marking up Republican-sponsored legislation that included mission authorization language. The committee postponed a final vote for two weeks and ultimately approved the legislation on a partisan, but friendly, basis. The two proposals have many differences.

Today Harris will release a companion executive action, “U.S. Novel Space Activities Authorization and Supervision Framework,” that the White House says will enable the Executive Branch to “prepare for and shape the future space regulatory environment.”

The main focus of the meeting, however, is international partnerships. The White House expects representatives of all 33 Artemis Accords signatories to be in attendance. Angola became the 33rd signatory last month. The Accords are a set of non-binding principles for how countries can work together effectively on the lunar surface.

NASA is leading the Artemis campaign to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo program. Unlike Apollo that involved only U.S. astronauts, Artemis is built on international partnerships. Europe, Japan and Canada already are partners. Europe builds the Service Module for the Orion crew spacecraft and all three are working with NASA to build a small space station, Gateway, that will orbit the Moon.

A Canadian astronaut, Jeremy Hansen, is one of the four crew members on Artemis II, the crewed test flight of the Space Launch System and Orion that will fly around the Moon at the end of next year. As a test flight, it will not go into orbit, much less land, but will fly on a free-return trajectory that will bring it back to Earth even if the propulsion system does not perform as planned.

The crew of Artemis II: Jeremy Hansen (Canadian Space Agency), Victor Glover (NASA), Reid Wiseman (NASA), Christina Koch (NASA). Credit: NASA

The flight after that, Artemis III, will put two U.S. astronauts on the surface. That is scheduled for the end of 2025. While many are skeptical whether that date can be met, Artemis is a long-term program for sustainable exploration and utilization of the Moon by government and commercial interests. Artemis III will be just the first of many landings.

Harris will announce today that on one of those missions later this decade, American astronauts will be joined by an international astronaut. It is not clear if she will specify which country that person will be from.

The meeting begins at 2:00 pm ET and will livestreamed on WhiteHouse.gov/live.

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