On June 21, 2023, the Republic of Ecuador and the Republic of India joined the Artemis Accords, a joint agreement between nations, aimed at coordinating and enhancing future space operations. The Accords highlight principles for conducting exploration and other peaceful activities on the Moon (including all the Earth-Moon Lagrange points) and Mars, but also comets and asteroids in our Solar System.
Welcome to the #Artemis Accords, Ecuador and India.— NASA (@NASA) June 23, 2023
This week, the two nations became the 26th and 27th, respectively, to commit to the peaceful and safe exploration of space as we journey to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
🇮🇳: https://t.co/XykAv5CSts pic.twitter.com/HG1d6m4kqF
The Artemis Accords were first introduced in 2020 and were initially signed by eight countries: Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. As of today, having just welcomed Ecuador and India, the Accords have been signed by 27 countries all around the globe. Each country will implement the principles according to its own instruments and national laws.
In addition, the accords are based on and refer to the United Nations Fundamental treaties for Outer Space. These treaties were conceived during the Cold War, as humankind was exploring space for the first time. They were the basis for almost all the interactions between countries in low earth orbit.
The main principles of the Artemis Accords
The goal of the accords is to build and expand a framework of practices focused on enhancing safety and cooperation, reducing uncertainties and “promoting the sustainable and beneficial use of space for all humankind”
- The activities performed under the Accords shall be used only for peaceful purposes, respecting international law.
- Countries shall be transparent about their own space policies and space exploration plans.
- Exploration infrastructure and standards shall be followed and created if needed, to favor common and interoperable use of technologies. For example communications systems or docking systems.
- Signatories will take all possible efforts to assist spacecraft or personnel in distress.
- When collaborating on a project, countries will decide which of them, if not all, will register space objects concerning the project. Having a clear database of all objects will ensure safer operations.
- Historical human or robotic landing sites, like the Apollo landers or the Opportunity rover on Mars, along with other significant “landmarks” will be preserved and maintained.
- The release of scientific data will be open to the public and scientific communities, but single members will have the right to release other kinds of information only if they deem it necessary.
- Space resources, for example, rare earths contained in asteroids or lunar regolith, will be usable, however single States won’t be able to “claim them” as their own.
- To avoid harmful interference, NASA and partner nations will provide public information about space operations. For instance, on a moon mining site where activities could pose a safety risk for other astronauts, a “safety zone” would be created around the site, expanding with the progression of excavations.
- Countries will have to plan and mitigate the effect of orbital debris deriving from their activities, through safe flight profiles and operational configurations.
- Signatories of the Accords will meet and consult periodically to update and revise the principles of the Accords.
The ISS, a perfect example of international collaboration
The International Space Station is maybe the most relevant example of what multiple countries can achieve by working together on behalf of progress, research and the whole of mankind. But it didn’t start without a plan.
Behind the ISS, there is an intricate legal system that started with the International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement, the IGA, signed by fifteen countries in 1998. Four Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) were signed between NASA and the other space agencies, to build the station.
The ISS Multilateral Coordination Board, set up with the four MoU signed in 1998, developed the International Docking System Standard. It is now being used in several next-generation spacecraft such as SpaceX’s Dragon 2, the Boeing Starliner and the Orion Capsule.
The next vast project concerning the Artemis program, for which the first MoU has already been signed, is the Lunar Gateway. The permanent space station, born on the legacy of the ISS, will be orbiting the Moon and will support future operations on the lunar surface.