Two African Countries Join Artemis Accords Bringing Total to 23

Two African Countries Join Artemis Accords Bringing Total to 23

Nigeria and Rwanda today became the first African countries to sign the Artemis Accords, bringing the total number of signatories to 23. The Accords lay out principles for countries to work together effectively on the Moon and are open to all countries to sign. Originally the United States intended to require any country wanting to participate in the U.S.-led Artemis program to sign them, but they’ve evolved into a more general commitment to peaceful cooperation in civil space activities in cislunar space.

Nigeria and Rwanda signed the Accords during the U.S.-Africa Space Forum taking place today in Washington, D.C. as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

Assistant Secretary of State Monica Medina, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, and National Space Council Executive Secretary Chirag Parikh were present as Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, and Francis Ngabo, CEO of Rwanda Space Agency, signed on behalf of their governments.

The Accords were developed by the United States and an original group of seven other countries during the Trump Administration. The 10 core principles, grounded in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, were designed to guide international participation in the Artemis program for sustainable exploration and use of the Moon: peaceful purposes, transparency, interoperability, emergency assistance, registration of space objects, release of scientific data, preserving outer space heritage, space resources, deconfliction of space activities, and orbital debris.

They only apply to governments, not the commercial sector, and only to civil activities, not national security.

The Biden-Harris Administration embraced both NASA’s Artemis campaign and the Artemis Accords when it took office in January 2021.

At a Secure World Foundation event yesterday commemorating the second anniversary of the Accords (which was in October), NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy emphasized the multilateral nature of the Accords and their applicability to all countries, not just those with current plans to send probes or people to the Moon.

“It’s urgent that we define how we’re going to explore. And we want to assure that we’re going to do so in a way that’s safe, responsible, and equitable. … taking into account the views not only of spacefaring nations today, but those who have yet to develop that capability and will want to have that opportunity.”

The Artemis campaign is led by the United States, but NASA constantly emphasizes that one difference from Apollo is that this time America is intent on including international and commercial partners. The Orion spacecraft that just returned from the Moon on Sunday, for example, was propelled by the European Service Module provided through a cooperative agreement with the European Space Agency.

ESA is a space agency, not a country, so it cannot sign the Accords, but several of its 22 member states have done so. France just joined in June.

Signatories to the Artemis Accords as of December 13, 2022. Credit: NASA

The Accords are open to any nation to sign and are not legally binding.

When then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine started the ball rolling, the idea was that any country that wanted to participate in NASA’s Artemis camapign would be required to sign the Accords.  Over the past two years, however, that connection has become more tenuous.

Asked if the U.S. was proactively approaching more countries to convince them to sign, Melroy replied that while U.S. leadership is important, “this is not about the U.S. telling everybody what to do.” Rather she hopes all signatories will reach out to others especially in their regions of the world.

Kristina Leszczak, a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department’s Office of Space Affairs, stressed the Accords are not bilateral agreements with the United States and the U.S. “is not the gatekeeper of the Artemis Accords. The Accords belong to all signatories.”

No vetting is involved. Any country may sign and existing signatories, including the United States, cannot veto anyone else, Leszczak said: “Can countries say no? No.”

She added that NASA and the State Department serve as repositories for the documents as an administrative matter, but that is all. “We only ask that the signature represent whole-of-government. It can’t be a space agency signing on behalf of a space agency,” but must represent that entire government’s agreement.

Leszczak told it is not a requirement for countries participating in NASA’s Artemis campaign to sign the Accords. A Senior Administration Official separately told today that internal discussions continue about how to characterize it, if not a requirement then perhaps an expectation or a preference. But the direct connection between agreeing to the Accords and participating in the U.S.-led Artemis campaign apparently has disappeared.

In any case, the Accords seem to have come along at just the right time. At the Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law today, NASA’s Gabriel Swiney listed 22 missions that various countries and companies plan to send to the Moon between now and the end of 2026. Half are for NASA and half will visit the Moon’s South Pole, an area of considerable interest because of the possibility that water ice exists there.

Swiney was closely involved in development of the Artemis Accords when he was at the State Department. Now with NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy and Strategy where he co-led a Lunar Landing and Operations Policy Analysis, he exclaimed: “The Moon is about to get really, really crowded starting next year.”

As activity ramps up, the Accords hopefully will lead countries to live up to the promise of a “safe, peaceful, and prosperous future” in lunar exploration.

Redwire’s Mike Gold, who was Bridenstine’s point person at NASA for the Artemis Accords and is often called their “father,” said at the Secure World Foundation event that “the journey of Artemis is to the Moon and Mars, but the destination of the Accords is peace and prosperity.”

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