NASA Unveils “Artemis Accords”

NASA Unveils “Artemis Accords”

NASA unveiled a set of principles today that it expects countries to adopt if they want to partner with the United States in exploring and utilizing the Moon. Called the Artemis Accords after the name given to NASA’s program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will begin formal discussions with potential partners today.

The Artemis Accords are conceptually similar to the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that governs participation in the International Space Station, a partnership among the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and 11 European countries acting through the European Space Agency (ESA).  NASA hopes all of those countries, and others, will want to partner in Artemis as well.

Artemis involves activities in cislunar space — between the Earth and the Moon and in orbit around the Moon — as well as on the surface.

NASA is leveraging the IGA to work out agreements for participation in the Gateway, a small space station that will orbit the Moon. The IGA is a treaty in all the countries except the United States, where it is an Executive Agreement.  It was negotiated twice, first in the 1980s when Japan, Canada and Europe agreed to join what was then called the Space Station Freedom program, and again 10 years later when Russia joined and the name changed to ISS.  Both times it took three years.

Rather than trying to extend the IGA to surface activities or negotiate a new multilateral agreement, NASA has developed the Artemis Accords in consultation with the State Department and others that the United States will sign with other countries on a bilateral basis.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Acting Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Affairs Mike Gold briefed the principles to the NASA Advisory Council’s Regulatory and Policy Committee (NAC/RPC) today.  Gold chaired the committee before joining NASA.  This was its first meeting under the new chair, Andrew Rush, president of Made in Space.

The 10 Artemis Accord principles are grounded in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and intended to ensure a safe, peaceful, prosperous, future in space.  They cover:

  • Peaceful Purposes
  • Transparency
  • Interoperability
  • Emergency Assistance
  • Registration of Space Objects (applies to Earth orbit as well as at the Moon)
  • Release of Scientific Data (in a timely manner, for free)
  • Protecting Heritage
  • Space Resources (extraction and utilization allowed)
  • Deconfliction of Activities (operate with due regard, establish safety zones)
  • Orbital Debris and Spacecraft Disposal

These are primarily for activities on the Moon.  In an interview with, Gold said partners in the Gateway, for example, will not have to abide by them.  NASA is hoping Russia will provide an airlock for the Gateway, but Russia is one of the countries pushing back against the U.S. position that companies should have rights to space resources. It might be challenging to reach agreement on that principle.  Gold said a Gateway agreement could be negotiated independently of the Artemis Accords.

The principles do not get into details. Asked who determines, for example, what constitutes a heritage site on the Moon, Gold said that is subject to negotiation.

NASA’s 2011 report “NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Artifacts” would form the basis of U.S. policy if legislation pending in Congress becomes law.  S. 1694, One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act (S. 1694), passed the Senate last year.

The term “peaceful purposes” is not defined in the Outer Space Treaty and decades of international debate leave its meaning unresolved.  Some argue it excludes all military activities, while others insist only weapons are excluded.  Gold said it is a matter of establishing norms of behavior and the United States will lead by example.

Bridenstine began his talk this morning criticizing China because pieces of its Long March 5B rocket landed in Africa earlier this week when the core stage reentered.  He cited it as an example of why agreements like the Artemis Accords are needed.  “That is a perfect example of why the Artemis Accords are important.  There needs to be an agreed-upon framework for how we’re going to operate in space safely.”

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.