NASA unveils ‘Artemis Accords,’ international partnerships for 2024 mission

Rep. James Bridenstine (R-OK) testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee during his confirmation hearing to be administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 1, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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NASA is helping the U.S. spearhead new space exploration agreements with foreign governments, especially as the agency seeks to fulfill President Donald Trump’s declaration to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024.

The U.S. space agency on Friday unveiled the “Artemis Accords,” a set of principles it seeks to use as the basis of bilateral agreements with other countries. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explained in a briefing that the intention of the accords is to provide a basis for what other nations would agree to when joining NASA’s Artemis program, which aims return NASA astronauts to the lunar surface in four years.

The Artemis Accords builds on President Trump’s executive order last month, which sought further international support for the U.S. policy that allows organizations to collect and use resources in space.

“I want to see private companies going to the moon. I want to see international partners joining with us on the Artemis program. I want to see private companies and NASA going to Mars. And, in order to achieve that, we have to reconsider the very, very stringent kind of requirements that are placed on going to these other planetary bodies,” Bridenstine said.

NASA developed the Artemis Accords alongside the White House’s National Space Council, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce.

“We are not doing anything to change or modify the Outer Space Treaty” of 1967,” Bridenstine said. That treaty will be a framework for “when we build on the Moon transparently, for peaceful purposes,” he added.

“When it comes to space resources we need to have an agreement that when you extract resources, you can utilize those resources,” Bridenstine said.

He also noted that the Apollo missions did not have the international collaboration that NASA has today with the International Space Station. Instead, Bridenstine wants the agency’s Artemis program to extend agreements like those with the ISS “all the way to the Moon.” NASA already has several international partners for its Lunar Gateway project, Bridenstine noted, including Japan, Canada, and the European Space Agency. The Artemis Accords focus on nations using and operating in space.

“The same principles that have been established over international waters need to also be established in space and on the surface of the Moon,” Bridenstine said. 

While NASA did not mention any countries that have signed on to the accords yet, Bridenstine noted Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Luxembourg as countries that are “leaning forward” and may partner with the U.S. on Artemis.

Additionally, a key principle of the Artemis Accords is safety in space. Bridenstine opened his comments by condemning China’s recent crewed capsule test mission, which saw the core of its Long March 5B rocket re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a dangerous manner this week, flying over population centers.

“It could have been extremely dangerous and we’re very fortunate that it didn’t hurt anybody,” Bridenstine said.  “There needs to be a agreed upon framework for how we’re going to operate in space safely.”

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