Senjuti Mallick is a space law expert promoting space sustainability and responsible space exploration. She leads legal and compliance operations at COMSPOC Corp.
Space exploration has always been an endeavor that transcends borders, uniting the world in a shared pursuit of knowledge and discovery. In this era of renewed interest in lunar and interplanetary exploration, the Artemis Accords are a pivotal milestone in space governance and international collaboration. Beyond mere diplomatic agreements, these Accords represent a visionary development aiming to reshape the narrative of space exploration from competition to cooperation.
The Accords, announced in 2020, are an international collaborative effort co-led by NASA and the U.S. State Department. They foster a spirit of partnership that unites not only the United States but also an expanding roster of nations across the globe. Currently, there are 29 signatory
nations and eight founding nations (Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, UAE, UK, and the United States). Most recently, Germany became the 29th country to sign on.
The Accords aim to reinforce the commitment of the USA and signatory nations by:
- Ensuring missions serve peaceful purposes as per the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
- Requiring transparency in plans and policies for space exploration.
- Striving for interoperability of space systems.
- Reaffirming obligations in the Rescue Convention to provide emergency assistance in space.
- Emphasizing the need to register space objects and meet the Registration Convention’s obligations.
- Requiring release of scientific data.
- Protecting heritage sites and artifacts on celestial bodies.
- Ensuring sustainable use of space resources.
- Deconflicting activities to avoid harmful interference.
- Committing the parties to mitigate space debris and plan for safe spacecraft disposal.
As the Accords gain traction, the key principles play a vital role in establishing a renewed space exploration framework and its significance.
Uniting nations for cosmic exploration. The Accords establish a set of guidelines for space exploration, involving not only the U.S. but other countries across the globe. The core mission of the Artemis program is to return humans to the Moon and, eventually, send astronauts to Mars, but it goes beyond these objectives. By promoting open cooperation, the Accords seek to enhance scientific discovery, foster technological innovation, and ensure the sustainable exploration of outer space.
Framework for peaceful and responsible exploration. Central to the Accords is its alignment with established principles of space law, particularly the Outer Space Treaty. By reinforcing the commitment to peaceful exploration and the non-appropriation of celestial bodies, the Accords ensure that space exploration remains a domain of peaceful scientific inquiry, free from militarization or territorial disputes. This reaffirmation of international law provides a stable environment for future space activities. It sets a precedent for nations to work harmoniously, transcending geopolitical barriers and striving to expand humanity’s knowledge and understanding of the cosmos.
Fosters sustainable exploration in space. In the quest to extend humanity’s reach into the cosmos, the responsible use of space resources is paramount. The Accords’ signatories affirm space exploration with due regard to the UN Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities adopted by UNCOPUOS in 2019. It emphasizes the need for sustainable practices in space resource utilization, discouraging actions that could harm the environment or infringe upon the rights of other nations. By promoting accountability, the Accords establish a standard for safeguarding space exploration for the benefit of future generations.
Champions the idea of transparency and information sharing. The Accords recognize the importance of open dialogue and information exchange among its signatories, enabling each nation to leverage collective knowledge and experiences to advance space exploration. This spirit of cooperation promotes trust among participating countries and contributes towards overcoming challenges for successful future missions.
Enhances interoperability among cooperating nations. The Accords call for signatories to use common standards and procedures. This will make it easier for spacecraft from different countries to work together and ensure the safety of space operations.
Affirms responsible space resource utilization. As space exploration advances, the potential for resource utilization becomes increasingly evident. The Accords address this critical issue by advocating for responsible extraction of resources from celestial bodies. This stance ensures that the inherent value of these resources is preserved for the benefit of all humankind while avoiding any sense of resource exploitation that could lead to tensions between nations.
Promotes private sector participation. The Accords recognize the significance of private industry in space exploration. By encouraging collaboration with commercial entities, the Accords aim to leverage the ingenuity and efficiency of private enterprises to enhance technological innovation and accelerate space missions. This public-private synergy serves as a catalyst for economic growth and rapid advancement of space capabilities. Such partnerships between governments and industry can lead to economic growth, job creation, and a more robust space ecosystem.
Advancing inclusivity and global engagement. Crucially, the Accords actively invite more nations to join the initiative, advancing inclusivity. By encouraging countries that may not have space programs to participate in, the Accords facilitate knowledge exchange, capacity-building, and democratization of space capabilities that will elevate space exploration to new heights of global collaboration.
The Artemis Accords are not merely a document; they are a testament to the unity and vision of the international community in charting a course for humanity’s future in space. By embracing cooperation, transparency, and responsibility, the Accords lay the foundation for a new era of space exploration, where nations work together as partners rather than rivals. Although a work in progress, it has already advanced the cause of international cooperation in space significantly. As more nations join the Accords, it will become a powerful force, ensuring the benefits of space exploration are shared by all. It is an instrumental step towards changing the narrative from space race to space cooperation, realizing our collective dream of exploring the cosmos and unlocking the boundless potential that space offers for everyone.
This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of SpaceNews magazine.