4 mins read 20 Oct 2020

Australia signs International Space Agreement - Artemis Accords

Australia, with several other nations, has co-signed an international agreement on the civil exploration of space, known as the Artemis Accords.

Credit: NASA.

WHEN the first woman sets foot on the Moon in 2024, Australia will be able to proudly say it was part of the mission.

The Artemis program – named for the twin sister of the Greek God Apollo, who gave the first United States moon landing mission its name – is taking shape. Now Australia has signed the Artemis Accords, one of seven partner countries to NASA’s grand endeavour.

The Artemis Accords were written to guide international cooperation for the lunar exploration program, a way “not only to bolster space exploration but to enhance peaceful relationships among nations”, NASA said.

Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom will join Australia and the United States, with other countries joining as the program progresses.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Artemis would be the “the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history”. “(And) the Artemis Accords are the vehicle that will establish this singular global coalition,” he added.

Australia has a long history in the space industry, thanks to several of our ground-based communication stations, like Honeysuckle Creek Antenna and the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope’s role in the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, and early satellite launches from Woomera, in South Australia.

The historic Honeysuckle Creek Antenna at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Centre - often is in contact with spacecraft and crewed vehicles in orbit. Credit: R. Mandow.

Several other radio antennas from the Canberra Deep Space Communication Centre, including the largest steerable dish in the southern hemisphere - DSN43. Credit: R. Mandow.

The launch of the Australian Space Agency in SA two years ago (after being announced at the International Astronautical Congress in 2017) has helped Australia partner with bigger space agencies around the world.

Agency head Megan Clark signed the Artemis Accords, while Mr Bridenstine announced the partnership at the (virtual) 71st IAC earlier this month. 

Dr Clark said the principles of the Artemis Accords meant that Australia would “share a collective interest in the exploration of outer space for peaceful purposes and to contribute to society and economic growth”.

“We’re so proud that our agency, just two years old, can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with NASA and our counterparts from across the globe… to confirm our commitment to a safe, peaceful and prosperous future,” she said.

Australian companies hope to contribute to the mission in a range of ways. Remote mining robotic technology is likely to be a part of it, as is our expertise in remote health, which has broadened into space medicine. Australian research in communications could also play a role.

Shannon Walker is scheduled to head to orbit at the end of October 2020, aboard the next SpaceX crewed mission. Walker is sitting on the far left. Credit: SpaceX.

And, in a more Earthly sense, Australia’s connection could be heightened if Shannon Walker – who is married to Australian astronaut Andy Thomas – is picked for the Artemis gig. Walker, a well-experienced astronaut with many hours of space travel time under her belt, has also been assigned to the first operational crewed flight of the SpaceX Dragon mission to the International Space Station.

The Artemis Accords, according to NASA, will “reinforce and implement” the Outer Space Treaty, along with other commitments to international agreements. The principles 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 Artemis 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

  • 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

  • Orbital Debris: Artemis Accords countries commit to planning for the safe disposal of debris.

Principles Source: NASA