The Guardian • Issue #2059


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2059

Whose Artemis?

Hannah Middleton

More than 50 years after the first human stepped onto the lunar surface, the moon has become a strategic asset hosting increasingly hostile military postures and manoeuvres.

The moon sees increasing competition among a larger number of players with mining resources potentially worth billions of dollars.

The Artemis Accords, drafted by NASA, the US Department of State and the US National Space Council, establish rules for exploring and mining the moon.

The Accords were signed in October 2020 by the US, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

Twenty other nations have since signed the Accords.

The Artemis Accords are an agreement for international co-operation on the moon under US direction. They will enable private and public entities to pursue commercial activities on the moon.

They include commitments to emergency assistance, interoperability, debris mitigation, registration of space objects and sharing of scientific data.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) forbids nations from claiming  any planetary body or any sovereignty in space. No nation can “own” space or the moon. Weapons of mass destruction are forbidden in orbit and beyond, and the moon, the planets, and other celestial bodies can only be used for peaceful purposes.

The Artemis Accords violate space law by allowing signatories to lay claim to resources extracted from celestial objects.

The US interprets the OST as giving “the basic right for individual States to allow the private sector to become engaged” in commercial activities. However, unilateral approval of commercial exploitation does not comply with the OST,

The Accords state that “nations mining the resources of the moon do not acquire any property rights over those resources; they do not own them,” The US and the other Accord signatories want a system in which private companies own the resources they extract, although not the territory they come from, because of the Outer Space Treaty. The US claims that the Artemis Accords therefore remain within the Outer Space Treaty’s provisions.

The US does not view the moon as a global common, while Russia considers it as part of the heritage of all humanity.

US promotion of the Accords outside the usual channels of international space law, such as the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, has caused much concern. By requiring nations to sign bilateral agreements, the US is trying to impose its own quasi-legal rules and to negotiate agreements and contracts to reinforce its dominance.

Russia insists it will not tolerate unilateral US-led initiatives that replace or undermine existing principles and states that “the principle of invasion remains the same, whether it is on the moon or Iraq.”

Russia has stated that the Artemis Accords are too “US-centric” and condemned them as a “blatant attempt to create international space law that favours the United States.”

China is excluded from Artemis because NASA is barred by the US Congress from co-operating with Chinese space activities.

China has said the Accords are like “European colonial enclosure land-taking methods”.

The China National Space Administration and Russia’s Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities signed a memorandum of understanding in March 2021 for “extensive co-operation” on an International Lunar Research Station. The station is “a comprehensive scientific experiment base with the capability of long-term autonomous operation, built on the lunar surface and/or on the lunar orbit.”

Mining natural resources including industrial metals such as iron, aluminium, and titanium, and rare earths is becoming increasingly important. Space is also a source of energy, using sunlight that can be captured by space-based solar power stations and beamed to Earth.

Now that the US is pursuing the Artemis Program, the question of how states will behave in exploring the moon and using its resources has come to a head. The big question is, who will own them?

Negotiations are needed now on the regulation of space in general and of the moon in particular. The aim must be a treaty to set rules governing the responsible and sustainable exploration of outer space.

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