An Enquiry into the Artemis Mission
With the vision to collectively revolutionise space exploration, on 13th October 2020, eight space-active nations (the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates) duly signed the Artemis Accords and became the founding international partners for NASA’s Artemis Mission. The mission aims to land humans on the moon by 2024 and establish a crewed lunar base by 2030 via the Artemis Lunar Exploration Program. Abbreviated for “Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of Moon’s Interaction with the Sun,” the Artemis Accords draw the guidelines for mining of the moon.
The magna-carta of space law, the Outer Space Treaty, 1967 (“OST”) stands as the foundational international agreement for the “peaceful exploration of outer space” and has been ratified by more than 100 nations. However, the decades-old OST is not in sync with the current developments in the field of outer space such as militarisation, privatisation, commercialisation and other enormous technological developments (see here and here). NASA claims that the Artemis Accords intend to create a dynamic for the consonant interpretation and enforcement of the OST in present times. It is within this context that this article analyses the dynamic interpretation of the Artemis Accords in the present international relations forum. It has a twofold aim, (i) to understand the fosterment of international cooperation in the legal regime of space exploration (ii) the legitimacy of the US-centric approach at the extension of the common-interest principle.
International Cooperation in Space Law
International cooperation is a goal in international law. In space law it is an obligation.
The Artemis Accords (“Accords”) presents international cooperation as a key component for its success and legitimacy. The Accords call for a shared vision for principles, enshrined in the OST for the prosperity of space exploration and it contends to be a subset of the existing space law framework, and continuously places its reference upon the OST and international law. The Artemis Accords also rely and commit to the deliberations of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space for the development of the legal framework via its Section 10(4).
The Preamble to the OST narrates a variety of concerns, including the general common interest in space, in its use for peaceful purposes, that the use of space should benefit all and the need for mutual understanding and co-operation. This principle is based upon the interpretation of the common interest principle, found in Article I of the OST, according to which, the only use of space exercised under the notion of “common interest” is that which targets at each State’s economic benefits resulting from the exploitation of outer space.
Further, as per Article IX of the OST, it is obligatory for state parties to conduct activities with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other State parties. The due regard principle substantiates that the freedom of exploration and use of outer space has to be exercised, not disregarding the national interests and legal rights of other state parties, and consequent non-interference towards other states.
Apart from the principle of non-interference, Article IX of the OST clearly embodies the principle of international cooperation and notes in conducting space activities, States must consider the common interest of other States and have due regard to their activities. The Accords call for transparency and sharing of technology, scientific information and interoperability between State parties which is also narrated in Article II of the OST.
Article III of the OST denotes that general international law and customary international law is complementary to the international space law. The UN Charter is a universally applicable and accepted treaty and proposes “international cooperation” among States, irrespective of their differences.
The Moon Agreement, 1979 aims for the prevention of commercial exploitation of the resources found in outer space. However, it is pertinent to note that major space-faring nations, including the US, Russia and China haven’t signed the same. The legitimacy of space mining stems from the Space Act, 2016 which indicates the right to use and trade space resources in US domestic law.
These crucial elements of the OST and international space law help in fostering space exploration and safety for peaceful purposes. The inclusion of these principles in the Accords make them a channel for scientific development with voluntary transnational cooperation.
Addressing the Issue of US-Centrism
The Accords do not form a part of the international law regime governed under the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and only take the model of bilateral agreements. With the US being the leader of this mission (and of the Accords), other non-signatory nations claim this is an attempt to sabotage the sanctity of international space law and being an imposition of the quasi-legal rules of the US. Many countries, including Russia and China, have argued the Artemis Accords to be a political attempt to exploit lunar resources. India’s stance has also been in favour of the Moon Agreement rather than a partnership agreement. With space being the next military base for nations, it is imperative to question such intentions.
The Accords presents an attempt on legislating space law unilaterally rather than a treaty-first space governance. It may ultimately lead to the US being the gatekeeper and dominant leader for lunar resource mining and its governance which is against the common interest principle as well as the doctrine against national appropriation enshrined in the international space law. These nationally legislated agreements also pose a risk towards the greater threat of space commercialization and hampering the space environment. Lucrative financial contracts and strong ties with the commercial industry may pave a way to persuade some space stakeholders for the US, but nevertheless, for an equitable and sustainable utilization of space resources legitimate international cooperation is the only way forward.
Outer space is a “common heritage of mankind” and for its peaceful and sustainable exploration, there is a dire need for mutual assistance and transnational cooperation, without interfering with the activities of other States. Collaboration in space is indispensable for the realistic and practical application of space operations and mission.
Whether these Accords serve the global common goal of acquiring the space as the next habitat for human civilisation or is this a meagre attempt of the US to exhibit, transcend and enforce its dominant position as a hegemony in outer space, is a question of political expediency and economic necessity. However, the answer to this definitely influences the future governance and legal framework in outer space via state practice. Nevertheless, enforcing bilateral agreements for the development of space is a revolutionizing step. With the space industry evolving every day, there is a dire need to transform space governance as well.
Anushka Rungta is a third year student at Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai. Her research interests include international law, financial law, and the intersections of law and economics.
Illustration by Tyler Comrie for the NY Times.