France became, Tuesday, June 7, the twentieth country to join the program of future exploration of the Moon driven by the United States. It notably joins Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil.
The CEO of the Center National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the French space agency, Philippe Baptiste, signed in Washington, in the presence of NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, the text of the declaration known as the “Artemis Accords” . The American program of the same name aims to return astronauts to the Moon around 2025, more than 50 years after the historic moon landing of the Apollo 11 mission, with the objective of eventually establishing a lasting human presence there.
It also provides for the construction of a station which will be assembled in lunar orbit from 2024, the Lunar Gateway, a future springboard for more distant manned flights.
The Artemis Accords are a set of bilateral agreements with the United States, which build on the 1967 international treaty governing outer space.
“Both for our scientific community and our industry, this new framework will make it possible to face new challenges and to continue to count among the great space powers”, welcomed Philippe Baptiste, quoted in a press release.
Russia and China stand apart
The signatory countries adhere to a dozen principles applying to their future activities on the Moon, but also on Mars or asteroids: transparency of missions, interoperability of systems, assistance to personnel in the event of distress, sharing of scientific data, preservation historical sites…
A more controversial measure provides for the possibility of delimiting “safety zones” to avoid “harmful interference” by a third party, in order in particular to protect the exploitation of resources, such as lunar water. And this, while the 1967 treaty prohibits any “national appropriation” of these resources.
“According to our analysis, the Artemis agreements are not in contradiction with the 1967 treaty”, explained, to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Pascale Ultré-Guérard, deputy director of programs at the direction of the strategy at CNES. The text helps to “cement” France’s commitment to lunar exploration, she added. For example, the Esprit communication and refueling module of the Lunar Gateway is to be designed in France by Thales Alenia Space.
The text, unveiled by the United States in 2020, has not been signed by either China or Russia, which plan to build their own lunar station together.