from the things-were-not-already-challenging-enough dept.
NASA's plan to return to the Moon is ambitious enough on its own, but the agency is aiming to modernize international cooperation in space in the process. Today it published a summary of the "Artemis Accords," a new set of voluntary guidelines that partner nations and organizations are invited to join to advance the cause of exploration and industry globally.
Having no national affiliation or sovereignty of its own, space is by definition lawless. So these are not so much space laws as shared priorities given reasonably solid form. Many nations already take part in a variety of agreements and treaties, but the progress of space exploration (and soon, colonization and mining, among other things) has outpaced much of that structure. A fresh coat of paint is overdue and NASA has decided to take up the brush.
[...] First, the rules that could be considered new. NASA and partner nations agree to:
- Publicly describe policies and plans in a transparent manner.
- Publicly provide location and general nature of operations to create "Safety Zones" and avoid conflicts.
- Use international open standards, develop new such standards if necessary and support interoperability as far as is practical.
- Release scientific data publicly in a full and timely manner.
- Protect sites and artifacts with historic value. (For example, Apollo program landing sites, which have no real lawful protection.)
- Plan for the mitigation of orbital debris, including safe and timely disposal of end-of-life spacecraft.
First, the Artemis Accords go beyond simply rejecting the unpopular 1979 Moon Agreement, which declared lunar resources to be the "common heritage of mankind" and committed parties to establish an international regime to oversee space mining. Only 18 countries have signed the treaty.
In its place, the accords envisage a US-centric framework of bilateral agreements in which "partner nations" agree to follow US-drafted rules.
Second, the accords introduce the concept of "safety zones" around lunar operations.
Although territorial claims in space are prohibited under international law, these safety zones would seek to protect commercial and scientific sites from inadvertent collisions and other forms of "harmful interference". What kinds of conduct could count as harmful interference remains to be determined.
(2020-06-02) Third European Service Module for Artemis Mission to Land Astronauts on the Moon
(2020-05-16) NASA Wants Partner Nations to Agree to "Artemis Accords" for Lunar Exploration
(2020-03-12) CoronaVirus (SARS-CoV-2) Roundup 2020-03-12
(2018-07-22) Who Owns The Moon? A Space Lawyer Answers
(2018-03-07) China to Recruit Civilian Astronauts, Partner With Russia on Upcoming Missions
(2018-01-09) Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
(2017-10-18) Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022
(2015-11-26) Who Owns Space? USA's Asteroid-Mining Act is Dangerous and Potentially Illegal
Robert Heinlein explored the notion in a novel. Does the future of space exploration lie with governments or corporations?
The government of Mexico announced Dec. 9 that it is signing the U.S.-led Artemis Accords outlining best practices for space exploration.
Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, Mexico's secretary of foreign relations, announced that Mexico would become the fourteenth country to sign the Artemis Accords, a document addressing various issues regarding safe and sustainable space exploration, many of which are directly tied to the Outer Space Treaty and other international accords.
In a statement, Ebrard said Mexico looked forward to participating in NASA's Artemis program of lunar exploration, but did not disclose details regarding the role he thought the country would play in the effort. He said that, during the Apollo program a half century ago, "we were spectators, now we are going to be participants. It is a great step for Mexico."
[...] NASA announced the Artemis Accords in October 2020 with an initial group of eight signatories. Five others later joined before Mexico, most recently Poland [on] Oct. 26. The countries who have signed include both traditional partners of the United States in space, such as Canada, Japan and several European nations, as well as emerging space nations like Brazil, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
Previously: NASA Wants Partner Nations to Agree to "Artemis Accords" for Lunar Exploration
Could Corporations Control Territory in Space? Under New US Rules, It Might Be Possible
Legal Questions Linger as Governments and Companies Keep Pushing Into Space