June 3, 2020
On May 15, 2019 NASA announced the Artemis Accords, a series of principles to ensure future operations on the Moon will be conducted safely and peacefully. The initiative proposes that the space agencies that look to cooperate on the Artemis program in matters related to lunar surface operations sign bilateral agreements with NASA, which would be tailored to each country’s planned activities. NASA created the Artemis Accords principles in collaboration with the Department of State and the National Space Council.
Going to the Moon sustainably through the Artemis program will entail a series of operations such as extracting and utilizing space resources and conducting science and technology activities on the lunar surface. The Artemis Accords are NASA’s effort to create a governance framework that ensures nations agree to certain rules of the road for working together at the Moon.
Though NASA has not released the text of the bilateral agreements, the agency revealed the principles that guide the Accords, most of which are founded upon the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, other space treaties, and United Nations guidelines. The Artemis Accords comprise principles such as peaceful purposes of space exploration, deconfliction of activities, the disposal of spacecraft and orbital debris, the ability to extract and utilize space resources, and transparency.
The Artemis program is an opportunity for nations to enhance diplomatic relations in space through peaceful cooperation and the avoidance of any type of conflict in outer space. The Accords adhere to Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty, which states that the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
As part of the deconfliction of activities principle contained in the Artemis Accords, NASA proposes the creation of “safety zones” on the lunar surface, the scope of which will be determined by the nature and location of each actor’s activities. The principle of deconfliction of activities finds basis in Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty, which states that countries must conduct space operations with due regard to the corresponding interests of the other countries also operating in space, as to avoid causing harmful interference to the other countries’ activities. With the creation of safety zones on the lunar surface, partners will ensure the avoidance of harmful interference with other nations’ undertakings by exercising due regard.
To ensure a safe environment on the Moon, NASA is urging potential partner states to follow the principles provided in the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. In addition, to comply with the principle of transparency, nations that sign agreements with the U.S. will need to register their space objects that are launching to the lunar surface. NASA is demanding that nations that want to be part of the Artemis Program join the Registration Convention.
Extraction and utilization of resources at the lunar surface, such as water ice and other materials, will be important to eventually derive fuel, build habitats on the Moon, and more. President Donald Trump had released an Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources in April, 2020. The Executive Order promotes a preference for a bilateral approach to coordinating space resource utilization with other nations. We made a comparison between the kind of cooperation the United States is pursuing and its rejection of other governance types, which can be found here: https://exploredeepspace.com/multimedia/policy-documents/policy-documents-2020-04-29/.
Other Artemis Accords principles include the release of scientific data, interoperability, and emergency assistance. Additional provisions such as the protection of heritage principle are included in the Artemis Accords to protect historical locations and artifacts, e.g. the Apollo landing sites and artifacts.
At this moment, no international partnerships for the Artemis Accords have been announced, as NASA just went through an interagency review process to receive approval to share the documents with other countries. As for the Lunar Gateway, relations will be governed by an extension of the current International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA).
For further information on this topic or other Coalition for Deep Space Exploration policy briefs, please contact: Jamil Castillo – Manager, Space Policy Coalition for Deep Space Exploration