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Artemis Accord- Highlights, Pros & Cons

From Current Affairs Notes for UPSC » Editorials & In-depths » This topic

In the recent months, the Artemis Accords onboarded the 1st African countries, marking the entry of the continent into the international lunar exploration scene. In this context, there is a need for India to examine its position with regards to this accord.

This topic of “Artemis Accord- Highlights, Pros & Cons” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

What is the Artemis Accord?

  • Artemis Accords are a set of principles, guidelines and best practices with regards to space activities. It seeks to boost peaceful international cooperation in space.
  • The upcoming Artemis Program, under NASA, is governed by these principles. Notably, signing these Accords is a prerequisite for participation in the Artemis Mission.
  • Some of the countries that have signed up, apart from USA, include:
    • Australia
    • Canada
    • Italy
    • Japan
    • UK
    • Ukraine
    • UAE
    • South Korea, etc.

Highlights:

  • Recognition of the countries’ rights to peacefully explore and use outer space
  • Prohibition of weapons of mass destruction in outer space
  • Recognition of the need to protect the sustainability of space activities in the long run
  • Respect for sovereignty of celestial objects
  • Interoperability of systems
  • Transparency and predictability with regards to space activities
  • It also deals with:
    • Cooperation in times of emergencies
    • Registration of space objects
    • Orbital debris management
    • Public release of scientific data, etc.

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Recent Developments:

  • Since 2020, over 20 countries have signed these accords.
  • In December 2022, Nigeria and Rwanda became the 22nd and 23rd countries to sign up, respectively. This makes them the 1st African countries to participate in this international understanding.

Why is this significance?

  • The accords enable countries to demonstrate their commitment to safe and sustainable use of the outer space.
  • A better international standing in the space-faring community means a better chance of attracting investors- something that is especially appealing for newer entrants in the space scene.
  • The sharing of knowledge and technological resources, by the likes of USA, with African countries would greatly benefit the latter.
  • The African countries would now be able to participate in forums where important decisions related to space are taken. They will be able to weigh in on issues like space debris, militarization, spy and reconnaissance satellites, etc.
  • The countries could be able to avail the aid of other signatories in case of space-related attacks.
  • Note that the partner countries are required to publicize their space-related policies and plans. Hence, emerging countries would be encouraged to give higher weightage for the space sector in their policies and budgets. This would build their capacity in space industry.
  • Space activities have numerous applications and can give rise to numerous benefits. This would drive innovation and trigger the growth of new industries.
    • Eg: the DMM.HeHe in Rwanda is using space tech for logistics and connecting farmers with their customers. It uses remote sensing to monitor farm operations, to predict yield, to educate farmers on how they could better plan their logistics and harvest operations for better productivity.
    • In South Africa, the startup XY Analytics provides services like satellite-enabled pasture optimisation and herd management for cattle farmers.

Why are some countries against it?

  • There are concerns about the accords’ implications with regards to the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty and Liability Convention. This UN-backed law provides that the country that launches a spacecraft would be held internationally responsible for damages caused by it. The provisions of the Artemis Accord could mean that the African nations could be end up liable for damages done by a partner country.
  • The African countries stand to face significant adverse consequences- including financial ones- if USA were to cancel the accord or withdraw from it.
  • Countries like Russia and China have criticized the accords for being overly focused on Western interests and that it amounts to a power grab by USA and its allies.
  • Another concern is that signing the accords would land the African countries in hot water with regards to China, especially given the latter’s heavy investment in African infrastructure project and track record in debt trap diplomacy. China had even collaborated with Nigeria and Ethiopia on satellite projects for several years.

Should India join the accords?

Pros:

  • India-US ties in the space sector has been growing steadily.
    • The Chandrayaan I Mission carried 2 NASA payloads to space.
    • NASA and ISRO are cooperating on the NISAR project.
    • The countries have concluded an agreement on sharing space situational awareness data.
  • Joining the Artemis Program would help boost the Chandrayaan program back home too.
  • It would open up opportunities for co-financing space projects.
  • It would enable access to some critical space technologies.
  • It would benefit India’s efforts to open up its space sector to the private players. International collaborations would open up cross-border commercial opportunities.

Cons:

  • No practical mechanism for assessing damage liabilities and for dispute resolution
  • No provision for mutual inspection of lunar facilities of the member states
  • It could lead to exploitation of natural resources in outer space even when the OST and the Moon Agreement prohibits national appropriation of outer space and mining.
  • Mining in outer space could mean a dangerous resource race among the countries which could lead to international confrontation- disrupting peace in space.
  • It could also deteriorate the lunar environment.

What is the way ahead?

  • Though the Artemis Accords has several pitfalls, it provides a promising initial framework for lunar governance in the future. Hence, India should consider participating in the accords to have its say in how the future norms for space governance take shape.
  • Also, Quad members have been focusing on outer space cooperation. A joint statement from the Quad referred to consultations on ‘rules, norms, guidelines and principles for ensuring the sustainable use of outer space.’ Already, USA, Australia and Japan are part of the Artemis Accord. This means that the accords would emerge as an important forum for Quad cooperation too.
  • It would also be a much-needed boost for India’s private sector space industry.
  • However, the accords shortcomings need addressing:
    • Clarification of the legality of the accords allowing exploitation of space resources, like lunar minerals.
    • After this is established, a mechanism to prevent unsustainable use of space resources
    • A mechanism to ensure that benefits from the exploitation of space resources are shared in an equitable manner among the states

Conclusion:

The Artemis Accord has potential in boosting international space cooperation to a new era- starting with lunar exploration and progressing to possible inter-planetary missions. It could help African countries realize the benefits of space technologies for its economies and see its first astronauts in space. India too stands to gain by joining the accord, but after several of its key shortcomings are addressed.

Practice Question for Mains:

What is the Artemis Accords? Should India join this undertaking? (250 words)

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