NASA’s Moon Exploration Coalition is beginning to unite.
Eight countries have signed Artemis Accords, a set of principles outlining a responsible study of Earth’s nearest neighbor, NASA officials announced today (October 13).
The path is already clear for these eight countries – Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and (not surprisingly) the United States – to participate in NASA Artemis program of exploring the moon with a crew. Artemis aims to land two astronauts near the lunar South Pole in 2024 and establish a sustained human presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade ̵
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“This is just the beginning,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein told reporters yesterday (October 12th). “These agreements will grow from here and we are excited to attract new partners as we move forward.”
The Artemis agreements serve as a preamble to bilateral intergovernmental agreements that the participating countries will sign with the United States. These future agreements will determine each country’s specific contribution to the Artemis program, while the newly signed agreements “establish rules of conduct and rules for space operations,” Bridenstein said.
For example, the signatories of the Artemis Agreements, inter alia, confirm that they will conduct all space activities peacefully and in accordance with international law; help protect space heritage, such as Apollo landing sites; public disclosure of scientific data in a timely manner; provides assistance to astronauts who need it; and make their hardware and other systems “interoperable” to maximize sharing.
The agreements are designed to defuse alien conflicts before they flare up, Bridenstein said.
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Bridenstein said Artemis’ ambitious timetable precluded a comprehensive multilateral agreement through the United Nations or another international organization. But he stressed that the Artemis agreements were fully in line with existing treaties, including the most important one, from 1967. Outer Space Treaty (OST), which forms the basis of international space law.
In fact, the agreements will “activate” the OST by giving it some much-needed teeth, said Braidstein and Mike Gold, acting administrator of NASA’s Office of International Affairs.
“If you want to join Artemis’ journey, nations must adhere to the Outer Space Treaty and other rules of conduct that will lead to a more peaceful, secure and prosperous future in space, not just for NASA and its partners.” but also for all to enjoy humanity, “Gold said in yesterday’s call.
The Artemis Agreements state that the use of space resources can benefit humanity. And NASA plans to exploit lunar resources extensively during the Artemis program, especially water ice, which appears to be abundant in the permanently shaded floors of lunar craters. This ice can not only provide vital support for astronauts, but can also be divided into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, the main components of rocket fuel, the agency said.
Such mining activities will be carried out in full compliance with the OST, emphasizes the Artemis agreement. (The OST prohibits any state from claiming sovereignty over the moon or other celestial object. But it appears to allow the extraction and sale of space resources, say many space law experts. And the US Congress passed a law in 2015 explicit permission for US companies to mine and sell extraterrestrial resources.)
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NASA first announced the existence of the Artemis agreements in May this year, but the agency has not published the full text of the document to date. That’s because NASA needed time to ask for and include feedback from potential international partners, Bridenstine and Gold said.
This feedback has significantly improved the agreements, Gold said. For example, Japanese officials have persuaded NASA to extend the document to activities on and around comets and asteroids, he said. (The agreements now cover Mars The moon; NASA intends to use Artemis’ work as a stepping stone for manned missions to the Red Planet in the 2030s.)
The current text of the agreements is not necessarily final; changes may be made in the future, according to Bridenstine and Gold.
The Artemis program relies on significant contributions from private industry as well as international partners. For example, the landing that carries astronauts to the lunar surface will be a commercial vehicle built by SpaceX, Dynetics or a team led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
Mike Wall is the author of “There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.