France joins the United States in their race for the Moon. On his trip to Washington on Tuesday, the president of the National Center for Space Studies, Philippe Baptiste, in the presence of NASA chief Bill Nelson, signed the “Artemis Agreements,” which aim to regulate space exploration and exploitation.
These agreements, which bear the name of the US space agency’s future lunar missions, consist of a series of bilateral agreements with the United States. By the fall of 2020, seven countries – Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom – had put their signatures on to get things started. Since then, eleven other nations have joined the initiative, including Israel, South Korea, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.
“To be counted among the great space powers”
France is therefore the nineteenth country to gather behind the Washington project, almost seven months after Emmanuel Macron expressed his interest in US Vice President Kamala Harris and then visited Paris on the sidelines of the celebration of the 11th. November. “I applaud France for reaffirming its commitment to peaceful, responsible and sustainable space exploration,” France responded on Twitter on Tuesday night.
Good news: France became the 20th nation to sign the Artemis Treaty. I applaud France for reaffirming its commitment to peaceful, responsible and sustainable exploration of outer space.
– Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) June 7, 2022
“The fact that France joins the Artemis exploration program marks a new step forward in the space cooperation we have with the United States,” Philippe Baptiste welcomed, quoted in a press release. (…) For both our scientific community and our industry will this new framework, to which we are connected, makes it possible to meet new challenges and continue to be counted among the great space powers ”.
Incompatibility with the 1967 Treaty?
The Artemis Agreements are intended to be a continuation of the 1967 Space Treaty, which already laid down the principle of peaceful use of space. This new text adopts about ten commitments, including the obligation to provide emergency assistance to crews in difficulty, interoperability of exploration systems, sharing of scientific data, transparency of space programs or even more extensive cooperation on the detection of objects – asteroids, comets … – and space debris.
It also allows for the creation of “security zones” to avoid “harmful interference” from a third party. This last point, which could make it possible to protect the use of space resources, could work in opposition to the 1967 Treaty, which prohibits any “national appropriation” of these resources. However, CNES believes that there is no “contradiction”.
Nevertheless, these agreements, signed on the initiative of the United States, can redraw the contours of international space cooperation. This has already been severely undermined by the war in Ukraine, which has severed some of the ties that Western countries have maintained with Moscow in this area. While signing and ratifying the 1967 Treaty, neither Russia nor China expressed their interest in this new text, and the two countries have already mutually agreed to build a joint research into orbit or the Moon’s surface.
If this is not a surprise, France’s unification is a success for Washington. Following the signatures of Rome, London, Warsaw and Bucharest, Paris’ commitment could convince other European nations – notably Germany – to accede to the Artemis treaties. The European Space Agency (ESA), for its part, states that this is a national decision and not a Community decision.
It is also fully committed to the Artemis mission program, which will make it possible to place humans on the Moon again in 2025 or 2026 – according to the current timetable. ESA will thus supply the service module for the Orion-manned capsule and will participate in the construction of a space station in the lunar orbit in return for seats for European astronauts on their way to the moon’s surface.