Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 02 August 2023

Artemis Accords mean

Source: By Alind Chauhan: The Indian Express

During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States, India signed the three-year-old Artemis Accords, a US-led international partnership on planetary exploration and research. The Accords have been signed by 26 countries till now, including Japan, Australia, the UK, France, and Canada. A set of 13 principles, the Artemis Accords is closely linked to the Artemis Program, which aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface, build a space camp there, and carry out deep space exploration.

Why were the Artemis Accords created by the USA in 2020?

RK: The Artemis Accords document which contains a set of principles and guidelines for the civil exploration and use of the Moon, Mars, comets and asteroids was introduced in 2020 by NASA as the basis for seeking international support and partners for advancing the 2018 US Artemis Program.

The Artemis Program concerns off-Earth exploration and commercial mining of planetary resources and for long term human presence on the Moon and Mars. I believe the program’s first phase will comprise space missions that will not only carry out scientific experiments but also involve landing humans on the Moon and explore the potential of commercial mining of planetary resources.

Essentially, the Artemis Program is the national program of the USA for advancing its next phase of space activities beyond Earth Orbit. The off-Earth commercial exploitation of planetary resources is something which we first heard in 2015 when the US passed a domestic law to provide rights to private citizens to extract, own and bring back such asteroid or lunar resources they might commercially exploit.

There was a fair amount of international conversation around it and whether the US law was consistent with Article II of the Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits national appropriation of space resources by claims of sovereignty, by use, by occupation or by any other means.

In any event, following the 2020 Executive Order by the US President (Donald Trump) which stated that the US no longer regarded outer space as a global common, also stated that the US would seek international support and partners for advancing the Artemis Program. That is how the Artemis Accords came about in October 2020.

Why has India signed the Artemis Accords now? Why did it stay away from it for three years?

RK: The Artemis Accords are a non-binding bilateral arrangement based on the political understanding of the participating countries. This means the Accords do not have the status of a multilateral treaty, or a contract nor does it set out legal principles or rules by any stretch of imagination. The Accords tell you that there is a desire to implement provisions of the Outer Space Treaty and set out 13 practical guidelines to advance the governance of civil exploration and use of outer space, including among other objectives the extraction of space resources and the Artemis Program.

It is important to note that the Accords document does not specifically refer to commercial exploitation or mining of lunar and asteroid resources. That is the widely recognised assumption derived from the US 2015 national law, I referred to earlier. So far 27 countries, including India, have signed them. The first eight countries each signed the NASA Artemis Accords document in October 2020.

It isn’t a question of whether anybody kept India away or India stayed away. These are very big decisions that are taken after due consideration and care. Space is all about geopolitics. And you have to consider what is good for your country. It’s a very big and important decision to take. And so, finally, we came round to the idea that, yes, we will sign the Artemis Accords and participate with the US and the other countries to undertake the project.

Does signing the Artemis Accords mean India has completely sided with the West regarding space exploration?

RK: The question of taking sides doesn’t arise — geopolitics is exactly thatinternational cooperation and mutual understanding are key pillars of international relations for every country. So, for India it’s not a case of siding with the US. Why in the world would any country, unless they had a very good reason, side with any one country or not the other one. India and China continue to trade despite the problems between them. We are respectful of Russia. We have long and abiding ties with Russia, do we not?

So, international relations is all about international cooperation, to do what you can do to promote international security and international stability. The UN Charter is the ex-cathedra document that informs the way nations are expected to conduct themselves. There is no conflict of interest, I believe.

How can signing the Artemis Accords benefit India?

JM: The Accords could fast-track India’s human spaceflight capabilities and ambitions, and do so cost-effectively, via collaborations with not just the US but other members of the Accords as well. For instance, ISRO Chief S Somanath, in a March 2022 interview, said the agency was considering possibly contributing to the Gateway, an upcoming NASA-led international lunar orbital station for Artemis astronauts. As NASA is providing crew seats to Japan, Europe, and Canada in return for their respective Gateway contributions, India might also work its way towards one too. Being an Accords signee will certainly be of aid here.

Moreover, the Accords could finally help catalyse a strong NASA-ISRO collaboration with India’s Chandrayaan 2 lunar orbiter providing advanced orbital data to help plan upcoming robotic and crewed Artemis missions. It’s been an untapped opportunity, especially as US scientists have formally urged NASA to replace the ageing, 2009-launched Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and therein have recognised the abilities of the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter.

For India, such collaboration would mean the country’s budding planetary science community gets infused with a wealth of LRO-derived operational and scientific knowledge. More importantly, it would lend India via the Accords a seat on the table for prospecting resources on the Moon, ultimately helping shape the governance of their extraction as and when it becomes a reality.

Another development to look for could be the Indo-Japanese LUPEX Moon rover mission, which is targeted for launch in the 2026–2028 timeframe to study the nature, abundance, and accessibility of water ice on the Moon’s South Pole. The mission is similar yet complementary to NASA’s VIPER rover, and will now most certainly feed into the critical data on which future crewed Artemis missions will bank on—seeing that both Japan and India are signatories of the Accords now.

But all of the said collaborative space potential will not brew if India doesn’t scale up its space budget dramatically. ISRO’s aspiring upcoming space science missions have been facing nothing but delays due to budget shortages and overshadowing priorities. While India’s new space policy does explicitly encourage ISRO to undertake “missions on in-situ resource utilisation, celestial prospecting and other aspects of extra-terrestrial habitability”, failure to increase such science and technology outputs for real wouldn’t allow India to sufficiently leverage the Accords for helping shape our future at the Moon.

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