The Artemis Accords Explained

NASA Artemis Accords

On September, 13, 2020, NASA announced that eight countries – including the United States – have signed the Artemis Accords, an international agreement that establishes how countries can cooperate to peacefully and responsibly conduct exploration of the Moon. Artemis aims to land two astronauts near the lunar south pole in 2024 and to establish a sustainable human presence on and around the Moon by the end of the decade – bold goals that NASA aims to achieve with the help of international and private-sector partners.

The founding member nations that have signed the Artemis Accords, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Australia
  • Canada 
  • Italy 
  • Japan 
  • Luxembourg 
  • United Arab Emirates 
  • United Kingdom 
  • United States of America 

These signatories to the Artemis Accords affirm, among other things, that they will conduct all space activities peacefully and in accordance with international law; help protect space heritage, such as the Apollo landing sites; publicly release scientific data in a timely manner; render aid to astronauts who need it; and make their hardware and other systems “interoperable” to maximize cooperative use.

The Artemis Accords state that the use of space resources can benefit humanity. And NASA plans to exploit lunar resources extensively during the Artemis program, especially the water ice that seems to be plentiful on the permanently shadowed floors of lunar craters. This ice can not only provide life support for astronauts, it can also be split into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, the chief components of rocket fuel, agency officials have stressed.

Such mining activities will be conducted in full compliance with the OST, the Artemis Accords stress (the OST prohibits any nation from claiming sovereignty over the Moon or any other celestial object. But it does seem to allow the extraction and sale of space resources, many space-law experts say. And the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2015 explicitly permitting American companies to mine and sell off-Earth resources).

Space law was created following the sending of the Earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into outer space in 1957 by the U.S.S.R. This unprecedented advance instigated a movement of space race with a multiplication of research and space activities on the part of States. It was therefore necessary to provide a framework for these activities and it is the Space Treaty, an international treaty dating from October 10, 1967, which establishes the common basis for all the general concepts of space law. Other major international treaties have appeared in order to clarify some problems that space activities may generate, such as the treaty on the rescue of astronauts, the return of astronauts and the restitution of objects launched into outer space in 1968, or the treaty on international liability, which appeared on September 1, 1972, which frames the principle of the responsibility of States for damage related to space debris, the 1975 Registration Treaty, which aims to identify objects sent into space by States, and the Moon Treaty in 1979.

Therefore, all activities must be carried out for peaceful purposes in accordance with the principles of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The principles of the Artemis Accords are:

  • Peaceful Uses 
  • Transparency 
  • Interoperability 
  • Emergency Assistance
  • Registration of Space Objects
  • Release of Scientific Data 
  • Protecting Heritage 
  • Space Resources 
  • Deconfliction of Activities
  • Orbital Debris 

PEACEFUL USES

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 utilise 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.

In fact, this objective of the NASA Artemis Accords is in fact a step forward in the efforts already undertaken to reduce the ecological impact of extra-planetary exploration. In addition, several issues related to the Artemis agreements appear : because of the modern issue of that topic, the international legal framework is uncertain.

The 1967 Space Treaty provides that the freedom of exploration and the freedom to use space are enshrined as privilege of humanity. However, this freedom is framed by the treaty in order to preserve space and celestial bodies from a war and territorial predation. Another international treaty established in 1979 that the Moon, other celestial bodies and their natural resources constitute “the common heritage of mankind” and these resources cannot therefore “become the property of States, international organizations, national organizations or natural persons”. While the NASA Artemis Accords establish that any extraction and use of the resources of the Moon is allowed. To note, this straight is one of its primary principles, as it will enhance the understanding of space soil composition for the future explorers.

In addition to the technological advancements Artemis will undertake, one of the outcomes of this program will be to refine and develop the rules of space. NASA notes that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is still in effect, but the new Artemis Accords build on the legal framework to help bolster a peaceful relationship on the Moon and beyond. Moreover, NASA said that the new Artemis Accords will not replace the treaty, but will expand it with more detailed principles for nations set to play a role in the 2024 mission to the Moon.

Eventually NASA seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission. The space agency hopes this colony will uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy. Finally, we can ask ourselves the following questions: will these agreements change ideas about the space conquest? These accords will initiate a new spirit of peace and scientific research in space?

This article was written by Mariam CHERIF, Zineb EL AATIQI, Gassama Babacar FARY, Wu CUIYI and Ismail SOW (Paris-Saclay).