NASA publicly unveiled the Artemis Accords last week, a list of principles that would form the basis of bilateral agreements between the US and nations in the exploration of space.
On the surface NASA’s “Principles for a Safe, Peaceful, and Prosperous Future” read like a smart path forward. After all, it’s hard to argue with ideas like the peaceful purposes of space exploration, being transparent, releasing scientific data, orbital debris mitigation etc. But is it the best path forward? And will NASA’s customary partners sign on? And what about China, Russia and India?
The 10 principles
The 10 principles of the Artemis Accords are as follows. The complete definition of each principle is available at the end of the article.
- Peaceful Purposes
- Emergency Assistance
- Registration of Space Objects
- Release of Scientific Data
- Protecting Heritage
- Space Resources
- Deconfliction of Activities
- Orbital Debris and Spacecraft Disposal
According to NASA, “international space agencies that join NASA in the Artemis program will do so by executing bilateral Artemis Accords agreements, which will describe a shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to create a safe and transparent environment which facilitates exploration, science, and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy.”
Sounds great. But wait, didn’t Canada already commit to participating in the Lunar Gateway? Did the Canadian Space Agency and the government know they would have to sign on to the US principles?
Space policy analyst Marcia Smith notes in her take on the Artemis Accords that they are “are conceptually similar to the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that governs participation in the International Space Station” and that “NASA is leveraging the IGA to work out agreements for participation in the Gateway, a small space station that will orbit the Moon.”
The principles raise a lot if questions without much detail. Some of them legal, related to the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty. And while the US and Canada have not signed on to the Moon Treaty, some member countries of the European Space Agency have, including Austria and the Netherlands who have ratified the treaty. Then there’s France and India who are signatories of the Moon Treaty but have yet to ratify it.
The Deconfliction of Activities principle with its “safety zones” is a principle which could be the most contentious. Perhaps not so much between the US and its main partners, but certainly with China, Russia and India.
The Artemis Accords raise a lot of questions. Is this the US being a leader? Or is this the US dictating international policy that best suits it needs, and you’re either on board or else?
There’s much more to this story which we’ll continue to explore in the coming days, weeks and months as more information becomes available.
The Artemis Accords
- Peaceful Purposes – International cooperation on Artemis is intended not only to bolster space exploration but to enhance peaceful relationships between nations. Therefore, at the core of the Artemis Accords is the requirement that all activities will be conducted for peaceful purposes, per the tenets of the Outer Space Treaty.
- Transparency – Transparency is a key principle for responsible civil space exploration and NASA has always taken care to publicly describe its policies and plans. Artemis Accords partner nations will be required to uphold this principle by publicly describing their own policies and plans in a transparent manner.
- Interoperability – Interoperability of systems is critical to ensure safe and robust space exploration. Therefore, the Artemis Accords call for partner nations to utilize open international standards, develop new standards when necessary, and strive to support interoperability to the greatest extent practical.
- Emergency Assistance – Providing emergency assistance to those in need is a cornerstone of any responsible civil space program. Therefore, the Artemis Accords reaffirm NASA’s and partner nations’ commitments to the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Additionally, under the Accords, NASA and partner nations commit to taking all reasonable steps possible to render assistance to astronauts in distress.
- Registration of Space Objects – Registration is at the very core of creating a safe and sustainable environment in space to conduct public and private activities. Without proper registration, coordination to avoid harmful interference cannot take place. The Artemis Accords reinforces the critical nature of registration and urges any partner which isn’t already a member of the Registration Convention to join as soon as possible.
- Release of Scientific Data – NASA has always been committed to the timely, full, and open sharing of scientific data. Artemis Accords partners will agree to follow NASA’s example, releasing their scientific data publicly to ensure that the entire world can benefit from the Artemis journey of exploration and discovery.
- Protecting Heritage – Protecting historic sites and artifacts will be just as important in space as it is here on Earth. Therefore, under Artemis Accords agreements, NASA and partner nations will commit to the protection of sites and artifacts with historic value.
- Space Resources – The ability to extract and utilize resources on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids will be critical to support safe and sustainable space exploration and development. The Artemis Accords reinforce that space resource extraction and utilization can and will be conducted under the auspices of the Outer Space Treaty, with specific emphasis on Articles II, VI, and XI.
- Deconfliction of Activities – Avoiding harmful interference is an important principle of the Outer Space Treaty which is implemented by the Artemis Accords. Specifically, via the Artemis Accords, NASA and partner nations will provide public information regarding the location and general nature of operations which will inform the scale and scope of ‘Safety Zones’. Notification and coordination between partner nations to respect such safety zones will prevent harmful interference, implementing Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty and reinforcing the principle of due regard.
- Orbital Debris and Spacecraft Disposal – Preserving a safe and sustainable environment in space is critical for both public and private activities. Therefore, under the Artemis Accords, NASA and partner nations will agree to act in a manner that is consistent with the principles reflected in the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Moreover, NASA and partner nations will agree to plan for the mitigation of orbital debris, including the safe, timely, and efficient passivation and disposal of spacecraft at the end of their missions.