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6 mins read 15 Jun 2021

New Zealand Signs NASA's Artemis Accords

New Zealand has now joined Australia and 9 other countries in signing NASA’s Artemis Accords, continuing the history of intergovernmental collaboration, whilst stepping human spaceflight and exploration into a new commercial era.

During the Artemis program, NASA and it's partners anticipate exploring more of the lunar surface than ever before. This picture of the Earth and Moon in a single frame was taken by the Galileo spacecraft from about 3.9 million miles away. Credit: NASA

New Zealand (NZ) became the 11th signatory to the Artemis Accords when Dr Peter Crabtree, Head of the New Zealand Space Agency signed the document during a ceremony on May 31 in Wellington. 

The Artemis Accords promoted by NASA in 2020, are a set of 10 high-level principles guiding international collaboration for civil space exploration. They intend to assist with operations to return humans to the Moon (including the first woman, in 2024) and to bring into focus the needs of future missions; to Mars and deeper into space. 

“New Zealand, along with seven other nations, helped craft the principles espoused in the Artemis Accords. These simple, universal principles will enable the next generation of international partnerships for the exploration of the Moon and beyond,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

The Hon Stuart Nash, NZ Minister for Economic Development estimates the NZ space sector to be worth over NZD 1.7 billion and the NZ space manufacturing industry to generate over NZD 245 million in revenue per annum, he expects that signing the Artemis Accords will facilitate participation in the program by the NZ space sector.

NZ Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta said: “New Zealand is committed to collaborating with all stakeholders across all space issues to ensure that the space environment will be available, and accessible, for the benefit of all, now and into the future”.

Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States and Ukraine are the current signatories to the Accords, along with the Republic of Korea who signed recently on 24th May, making them the first signatory under the Biden-Harris administration.

Australia’s Superposition on the Moon

An artist’s impression of an Australian Moon base. Credit: Australian Space Agency.

NASA introduced the Artemis Accords last year as a “shared vision for principles to create a safe and transparent environment which facilitates exploration, science, and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy”. The Accords are linked with the aims of the Artemis Program but are also meant to reinforce the commitment to international support for practices that have become the norm in the space industry, such as the recovery of people and identification of objects from space through the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, and Registration Convention respectively, and include the public release of scientific data. The Accords are grounded in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which still underpins the basic framework for international space law.  

Australia signed last year in Oct 2020, a move some saw as controversial because specific principles of The Accords relating to the use of space resources (Sections 10 and 11) appear to be in contrast with core provisions of a separate treaty Australia are already a signatory to. 

The Moon agreement or Moon Treaty of 1979, ratified by Australia in 1986, states that jurisdiction of all celestial bodies (including the orbits around such bodies) be turned over to the participant countries as a ‘common’ area and that all activities would conform to international law, with an international regulatory regime managed under the United Nations Charter. 

The Artemis Accords depart from this under the premise that signatories are able to create contracts specifying the conditions for utilisation or exploitation of resources among each other. The Accords are not a “treaty” but the principles relate to the U.S. interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty, in line with an amendment to U.S. domestic law (U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act - 2015) that gave citizens of the United States a legal right to resources recovered in space, including the moon and other solar system bodies. 

The Moon Treaty has been ratified by a relatively small group of nations, none of which are presently engaged in human-space flight. New Zealand is not a signatory.

Can we be responsible guardians of our galaxy?

New Zealand applies space-based data in areas such as agri-technology, hazard management, oceanography and meteorology, and has launch capacity via Rocketlab's private orbital launch ranges on the Mahia Peninsula, to the east coast of the North Island. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The NZ government has recognised the inevitability of resource extraction in its approach to the governance of space activities. “The ability to use space resources such as minerals on the moon and other celestial bodies is critical to enable the next phase of space exploration, including the possibility of sending humans to Mars,“ said Nanaia Mahuta. 

Mahuta, the first NZ Foreign Minister of Māori descent, in her statement, discussed the country’s commitment to sustainable environmental management:

“As one of only a small number of states with space launch capability, we take responsibilities of kaitiakitanga of the space environment seriously. New Zealand is committed to ensuring the next phase of space exploration is conducted in a safe, sustainable and transparent manner and in full compliance with international law,” she said.

Kaitiakitanga is akin to guardianship and protection. In the Māori worldview, people are closely connected to the land and nature, in a web of relationships. A kaitiaki is a guardian appointed to protect or preserve. Kaitiakitanga is concerned with a holistic kinship that exists between humans and nature, with protocols to keep both connected and healthy, which has become a feature of resource legislation in NZ.

“While existing international law provides high-level rules around the utilisation of resources, we see a need for additional rules or standards to ensure the conservation and long-term sustainability of these resources,” said Mahuta. She subsequently revealed that she saw the Artemis Accords as an important first step in developing such standards.

Artemis Program approaching Launch

Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs lift the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage and prepare to move it over to High Bay 3 in the Vehicle Assembly Building, where it will be placed atop the mobile launcher in between the twin solid rocket boosters, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA

Stacking and assembly activities are underway in Florida at Kennedy Space Center for the Artemis I launch, which will be an uncrewed lunar orbit mission. The twin solid rocket boosters for the Space Launch System (SLS) are mounted in place on the top of the Mobile Launcher, and crews are positioning the core stage. Originally projected to launch in November 2021, NASA is also reviewing launch windows into 2022. 

The Artemis II crewed mission timeline is also underway with assembly and testing of hardware being undertaken in the US and Europe. Its launch will be impacted by the success of Artemis I, it is forecast to take off no earlier than September 2023. 

Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto in Greek mythology and the twin sister of Apollo. Significantly she was the patron and protector of young girls and is also known as ‘Goddess of the Hunt’; equivalent to Diana in Roman mythology.

Brazil is tipped to be the next country to sign up to the Accords.