What Are The Artemis Accords?

The colonies on Mars are often the first images that come to mind when talking about the future of space exploration – but even closer to home, we are planning on drawing resources from our neighbor, the moon.

As to be expected, there has been quite a lot of talk as to who will claim, manage, and “control” her rocks and minerals. Who, out of every country on Earth, can claim this? Is it Russia, the first country to bring a man into space? The United States of America, who put the first man on the moon? Whoever is able to get there and establish a base, will have a strong claim.

In May 2020, a new set of agreements were published, and signed by the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. These agreements were drafted by NASA, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State and a newly re-established conglomerate known as the National Space Council. The agreements are called the Artemis Accords, and are meant to regulate exploration and mining of the moon by the countries that have chosen to sign this agreement. As of today, South Korea, New Zealand, Brazil,

So what do the Artemis Accords entail? It’s actually only seven pages long. NASA announced the Artemis Accords goals and the principles in place to complete those goals.

The principles of the Artemis Accords are:

    • Peaceful Exploration: All activities conducted under the Artemis program must be for peaceful purposes
    • Transparency: Artemis Accords signatories will conduct their activities in a transparent fashion to avoid confusion and conflicts
    • Interoperability: Nations participating in the Artemis program will strive to support interoperable systems to enhance safety and sustainability
    • Emergency Assistance: Artemis Accords signatories commit to rendering assistance to personnel in distress
    • Registration of Space Objects: Any nation participating in the Artemis program must be a signatory to the Registration Convention or become a signatory with alacrity
    • Release of Scientific Data: Artemis Accords signatories commit to the public release of scientific information, allowing the whole world to join us on the Artemis journey
    • Preserving Heritage: Artemis Accords signatories commit to preserving outer space heritage
    • Space Resources: Extracting and utilizing space resources is key to safe and sustainable exploration and the Artemis Accords signatories affirm that such activities should be conducted in compliance with the Outer Space Treaty.
    • The Outer Space Treat was adopted by the United Nations in 1976. It is formally known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
    • Deconfliction of Activities: The Artemis Accords nations commit to preventing harmful interference and supporting the principle of due regard, as required by the Outer Space Treaty
    • The principle of due regard “obligates States to conduct all their space activities ‘with due regard to the corresponding interests of other all other States Parties to the Treaty.’ “
    • Orbital Debris: Artemis Accords countries commit to planning for the safe disposal of space debris

    While these tenets all sound reasonable and well thought out, the Artemis Accords are not without criticism. Russia has called the Accords a “blatant attempt to create international space law that favors the United States,” and Chinese media has decreed the agreement “akin to European colonial enclosure land-taking methods.”

Are there any other solutions to the questions the Artemis Accords stands to answer? Well, yes, there are a few. Australia, for one, has signed both the Artemis Accords and the Moon Treaty, which takes its cues from the the Outer Space Treaty. These documents, are however, dated. The Moon Treaty was first drafted in the 1980s, and the Outer Space Treaty in 1966 (signed in 1967). The concerns that were of most importance when these treaties were drafted are no longer as relevant – and there are new concerns now. For instance, the Moon Treaty has a provision against using the moon for testing of nuclear devices. While nuclear is still a concern of today’s scientists, it is unlikely that we will see many countries attempting such usage. (Listen to the  Your Place in Space Podcast: How Ultra Safe Nuclear Could Supply Earth with Clean Power

The Outer Space Treaty is also a point of concern for some analysts, as it forbids any single country from claiming ownership of a celestial body. These critics say that the Accords have essentially created a select group of nations who now get to divide up the moon between themselves, creating an embargo of sorts for the rest of the world.  Indeed, the Accords have been called “too centered on American and commercial interests.”

Another concern is that the Artemis Accords were distributed outside of the sanction of the United Nations, which some scientists say could lead other countries to follow suit when they have an agreement they would like to exclude the UN. An additional worry is that the Outer Space Treaty, which is the precedent, will become obsolete under the Artemis Accords.
In order to participate in the upcoming Artemis program, which seeks to be a new lunar exploration program and a collaboration between nations, an interested country must sign the Accords before they can join the project. 

Partner countries deem the concessions of the Artemis Accords worth making a lasting presence on the moon. Already, the Artemis Accords are a relevant international space document influencing space policy and governance. You can follow the progression of the Artemis Accords on NASA.gov.

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