Understanding the international agreements around the upcoming Artemis missions.
On the 29th of this month, NASA launches the first of the Artemis missions and begins the long awaited program to return humanity to the Moon.
While the first mission is uncrewed, successive missions aim to land not only the first woman, but also the first person of colour on the lunar surface and even establish the groundwork for a sustainable long-term human presence.
This time, it’s not just about proving a point, it’s about building a future. To that end, the United States has been partnering with other nations across the globe, with something called the Artemis Accords.
I wanted to learn more, so decided to read them for myself. You can see the research below:
Rather than a treaty, the Artemis Accords are a set of political commitments that each nation undertakes to respect in order to participate in the Artemis Program.
Initially signed on the 13th of October 2020 by Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the UAE and the United Kingdom, additional nations have since joined including Ukraine, South Korea, New Zealand, Brazil, Poland, Mexico, Israel, Romania, Bahrain, Singapore, Columbia, France and Saudi Arabia - and the accords continue to remain open to all States in the world. They set out a broad framework for collaboration in space, drawing from and building upon the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, while specifically tackling a number of new subjects such as information and data sharing, interoperability, the use of resources and the deconfliction of activities.
Among these subjects, the Section on resources has drawn the most attention, as many see the Accords as the first step towards a legal interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty that secures US state and corporate interests in space based resources - using participation in the Artemis program as the proverbial carrot.
However while the document does touch on resources, it is by no means clear about the future.
It is, in fact, rather short and high-level - leaving a lot open to future deliberation and raising a lot of questions.
I therefore decided to reach out to Antonino Salmeri, a space lawyer based in Luxembourg who specializes in the governance of space resources and lunar activities, to help answer some questions about the Artemis Accords and what they mean for the future of space exploration. You can watch our whole conversation below:
What I learned from our chat is critical to fully understanding the state and future of space law, and ultimately exploration. I strongly encourage you to watch the whole interview, but here are a few key takeaways. Firstly, the Artemis Accords only expressly cover civil activities by civil agencies. However this does not mean the Moon will be free reign for militaries and private corporations. Military activities of any kind are expressly forbidden on celestial bodies (anywhere beyond near Earth) by Article IV (2) of the Outer Space Treaty and the Artemis Accords don’t change that.
Furthermore the activities of private enterprises are tied to the international responsibility of their parent nation. The Outer Space Treaty forbids claiming land and the Artemis Accords say that resources can be used, but using resources doesn’t constitute a claim of land appropriation.
If a nation can’t own the Moon, neither can a company from that nation.
Finally, interoperability means that different nations and other parties and partners, both commercial or otherwise, can work together in space in the future. It prevents waste generation and makes innovation and access easier and more open by ensuring that we don’t have to redevelop the same technology and capacity numerous times - instead iterating and cooperating.
While the fact that major space faring nations like China and Russia are notably absent from the accords does create risks for interoperability and overlap issues down the road, it is nonetheless important that interoperability and minimum coordination become key features in all current and future agreements.
Something that seems likely given the need for cooperation in space.