What role will France play in Artémis, NASA’s program to return to the Moon?

But what are we to do on the moon? On Tuesday, France became the 20th country to join a new wave of peaceful space exploration. By signing the “Artemis Agreement”, it joins NASA’s US program of the same name, which will provide flights to the Moon for the next two to three years. The ultimate goal is to establish a lasting human presence there, to create “safety zones” to protect extraterrestrial resources or even to build a springboard station for more distant manned flights.

Francis Rocard, director of solar system exploration programs at the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), explains that 20 minutes the role that France will play in this great space adventure.

Why does France want to be part of this program?

Unlike the US Apollo missions that were carried out almost fifty years ago, the Artemis missions offer different cooperation opportunities. “Participating in the Artémis program means being part of a large international and ambitious project. It also means that through the European Space Agency (ESA) we give ourselves the opportunity to eventually send an astronaut to the Moon, ”assures Francis Rocard. Because without NASA, neither France nor Europe has the means to carry out such an expedition alone, the expert assures.

Did we really need us?

France joins the Artémis program after Canada, Japan, Britain, Ukraine, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and even Brazil … There are already many people. But thanks to its know-how, France should contribute directly to this program through the European Space Agency. This will be the case, for example, with the Esprit module, which will bring communication tools and supplies to Lunar Gateway, the station in lunar orbit. This module will be designed in France by Thales Alenia Space, told AFP Pascale Ultré-Guérard, Deputy Director of Programs in the Strategy Department at CNES.

“The European Space Agency has also undertaken to supply transport modules called ESM, which will take astronauts to the Moon on each trip,” adds Francis Rocard. However, the parts for the latter could be manufactured by major manufacturers such as Thales or Airbus, whose centers are in France.

Will French astronauts be sent?

“All the contributions from the European Space Agency give it the legal right to send a European astronaut to the Moon. It is part of the agreement,” explains the head of the National Center for Space Research. And if nothing is fixed yet, some have already positioned .

Last January, barely back from the International Space Station, Thomas Pesquet assured that the Moon was “the next step”. “With the current dynamics, the place of France, the place of Europe, it is not impossible. So I will do everything in my power to make this happen, I cross my fingers very strongly,” he said on the set to BFMTV . An optimism still prevails. In late May, the astronaut claimed to be “in good configuration” to participate in the lunar missions in the Artemis program.

How much will it cost France?

If it is normal, the signatures of agreements are generally obligations to provide paid services, the Artémis agreements are slightly different. “These are agreements in principle where it is not directly a question of money,” tempered Francis Rocard. The signatory countries commit themselves, for example. to get a crew in difficulty to help. »

What is France’s position on “safe areas”?

In the Artemis agreement, one measure is controversial. It provides, as we said above, the ability to delimit “safety zones”, especially to protect the exploitation of resources, such as lunar water. Except that a 1967 treaty prohibits any “national appropriation” of these resources.

There has been some discussion on this subject in France. To finally conclude that “according to our analysis, the Artemis agreements are not in breach of the 1967 Treaty,” Pascale Ultré-Guérard told AFP. “France signed because it agrees that exploiting extraterrestrial resources does not mean acquiring the planetary body,” reports Francis Rocard. “It’s a bit like international waters on Earth. They all belong, but we have the right to fish. It is clear that the Moon is a common good whose resources can be exploited.

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