As NASA was releasing the Artemis Accords last week, Canada has been working towards finalizing an agreement with the US and other international partners for its participation in the Lunar Gateway.
The Artemis Accords, which were crafted by NASA with help from the US State Department, include 10 Principles for a Safe, Peaceful, and Prosperous Future and will require international partners to agree to the principles and sign bilateral agreements before they can participate in the Artemis program.
The Artemis program would see a human return to the moon and include building a gateway, a small staging outpost in cislunar space. Canada has already committed to participating in the Lunar Gateway portion of the Artemis program and would at a minimum contribute a robotic arm known as Canadarm 3 which would include new artificial intelligence capabilities.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) provided the following statement to SpaceQ when questioned on when Canada knew about the Artemis Accords and if negotiations on a bilateral agreement with the US were underway.
“We are actively collaborating with the U.S. and other international partners on space exploration missions like the International Space Station, and we are in the early stages of collaboration on the Lunar Gateway Mission. We are also preparing for potential roles in missions to the Lunar surface and Mars, by supporting the development and demonstration of lunar science and technologies through the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP).”
“All international space missions that Canada participates in are enabled through international agreements between partners. Canada, the U.S., and other partners are in the process of finalizing the agreements for the Lunar Gateway mission. Our collaboration on missions to the Lunar surface and Mars will also be enabled through agreements.”
“Canada will continue to work with the U.S. and other international partners to develop policies and guidelines for the peaceful exploration and use of space both bilaterally and in relevant multilateral fora such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.”
The CSA declined to comment on when they knew the US was going to propose the Artemis Accords.
Watch – An international perspective on the Artemis Accords
Earlier this week SpaceQ spoke with Dr. David Kendall about the implications of the Artemis Accord and the recent White House Executive order on the use of space resources. Dr. Kendall is a founding member of the Outer Space Institute at the University of British Columbia and was also the former Chair, United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and a former Director General of Space Science and Technology, Canadian Space Agency.
One central part of the Artemis Agreements seems to be that everyone must agree that all countries can mine resources while being responsible only to their own country. This is a dangerous idea, each country is free to be responsible or irresponsible in their own territory but outer space bodies (such as our Moon) are the joint property of all on this planet.
We can be reasonably certain that major countries (Canada, the US, European countries, etc) would be responsible custodians of extraterrestrial resources. These countries would likely NOT remove resources and leave a huge mess. But it is quite possible that a less responsible country would license some corporation that would be irresponsible. Just as we see some countries license and flag various cargo ships – and some of those countries are not concerned with what those cargo ship carry, where they dump trash, etc.
We think of space as vast – but we also used to think of the ocean as vast. Now we know that trash dumped from the West coast of North America can be found in many parts of the Pacific.
I have worked with Canadians since 1978 (starting with the Canadians assigned to NORAD) and have worked with Canadians (and many international partners) in the space business. This is a good time for many countries to engage in negotiations but not be in a hurry – let’s see what happens in early Nov 2020. In the meantime, we should very carefully think about what precedents we are setting or agreeing to. Treaties and agreements can be changed but do we want to establish a precedent that we might have to undo later?
One note – the Gateway is now not in the “critical path” and frequently those things are cut when the budget is stretched thin. And the budget is always stretched thin.