The Artemis Accords: Opportunities for the African Space Industry
Towards the end of 2019, NASA embarked on an ambitious Program called Artemis. Through it, NASA aims at growing the United States participation in space, and as a goal, to send the first woman and man back to the Moon by 2024. The program, unlike many earlier NASA endeavours, is to be driven by collaborations with both private and state-actors alike. To this end, the US president signed an Executive Order on 6 April 2020, which reiterates the country’s position on expanding space exploration and exploitation, on the basis of a new regime, also based on collaborations with other states. i
On 13 October 2020, the official text of the Artemis Accords – the guiding document for the relationship between NASA and the various partners – was released and confirmed; a short brochure of 10 principles is available on the NASA website. The principles outline the manner in which NASA would engage with both private and state actors to bring the Artemis program to fruition and also lays down the values that will guide all actors in the program. Suffice to say, the backbone of the accords is the importance of collaboration.
Never has an opportunity like this ever been presented for the African Space Sector to benefit and grow. In this article, I will analyse the opportunities for the African Space Sector presented by the Artemis program and how they may be utilised for the development of the space sector. For purposes of this discussion, ‘African Space Sector’ shall refer to the various space agencies and councils in Africa, space engineering, space medicine, space law and all various industries that are attached to the activities of states and entities in outer space.
2.0 The Timely nature of the Accords
Since the first human presence in space with Sputnik 1 in 1957, humanity has longed to extend its reach into space, within the solar system and beyond. NASA has sent a number of satellites on missions even beyond the borders of the Milky Way. Currently, there are over 2000 satellites orbiting the earth, of which about 1000 belong to the United States. There is no doubt the US is a major space actor. However, for humanity’s biggest aspirations of reaching further and deeper in space and exploiting space resources to be realised, the efforts of a single space actor may be largely inadequate.
Long and more ambitious space programs need collaborations and effort-sharing between more than one space actor. Various agencies need to pool resources, both human and technological, to achieve a common goal. This was the major aim of the Accords. At the time when humanity is ready to push the frontiers of space activity, NASA aims to create a network of collaborations that will lead humanity into the next space century.
Since 1999, when the first African-owned satellite, SunSat-1, was launched by the Republic of South Africa, 41 satellites have since been launched by 12 African States, including Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya among others 20 of these having been launched between 2016 and 2020. Additionally, the continent runs three GEO telecommunications satellite multilateral projects. Two of them were launched under an agreement with RASCOM, the Regional African Satellite Communication Organization, representing the interests of 44 African telecommunications operators, the first African telecommunication satellites covering the whole continent. Many African states are also joining the race for space with countries like Uganda also preparing to offset their own space agencies and begin engagement in space activities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has inevitably set back the space industry worldwide, with many emerging space actors halting their operations due to the thinning of resources over the period of the pandemic. However, NASA has continuously demonstrated that even in the middle of a pandemic, the space industry is relevant, by launching astronauts into space aboard the first privately owned space vehicle, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, and also providing satellite data mapping the spread of the pandemic to aid in governmental efforts to curb it.
3.0 Opportunities for the African Space Sector from the Accords
The Accords are, inevitably, a dawn in the space industry, a new chapter, which, albeit its flaws, is one that should not be missed and can be harnessed for the greater good of the space industry world over. It can be argued that, like all multinational efforts, the Artemis is bound to have its fair share of political rope-pulling, but it is through such efforts that international consensus is built. The African space sector can benefit from the new dawn that presents itself in a number of ways.
3.1 Technology Sharing
The Accords are to be built on the key principle of knowledge sharing. I have made the argument before, to which I now stick, that the exploration of deep space and longer space missions such as the Artemis and Mars Program, or even the Lunar Gateway coming with the Artemis program, cannot be achieved without the collective pooling of resources by various space actors. A lot like the space debris problem, longer space missions shall rely on collective knowledge bases from which various actors can draw from time to time. This, the Artemis program seeks to realise through encouraging knowledge sharing among partners. Africa is the smallest shareholder in the space industry, mostly owing to technological deficiency and slow technological growth. This can be due to underutilisation of tech resources or even brain drain.
With the Artemis program, the continent can benefit from the knowledge and technological resource base that will come with it and fast track its own space industry. This can see the realisation of its various needs, such as having launching facilities on the continent itself and building its own space vehicles and training its own space crew, among others that I will address in a subsequent point.
3.2 Collaborations with major space actors
This benefit is partly related to the one above. The Artemis program is keen on collaboration between partners. In this, it will be expected that various partners will work with each other on various projects. This is the opportunity that many emerging space industries in Africa can use to grow their capacity for international competition. Space entrepreneurs and state actors can benefit from this opportunity and, in turn, develop their own sectors. Similarly, African actors can benefit from the vast space-resource base for raw materials and resources that they can invest in various other sectors of the economy for sustainable growth. This leads to the next benefit.
3.3 Capacity Building
African space actors can now accelerate their capacity in various areas of the space industry, through policy and infrastructure development. Notably, a number of countries have national space laws to govern the activities of their natives and the state actors in their space ventures. These include the United States, Luxembourg and Japan, among others. With concrete laws, it is easier for states to regulate the activities to their actors in space. Suffice to note that at the moment, for sustainable space exploration to be possible, states shall need comprehensive national laws that shall govern their actors and hold them accountable or all activities carried out in outer space.
African states need, thus, to have national legislation that shall guide their policy in outer space. This may be modelled on an international compromise that I discuss in the next point. In addition to legislation, the African space industry can benefit from infrastructure development for sustainable space activity. This includes development of launch facilities for continental launch activities, training of space-crew like astronauts and others, among others. These shall boost the space sector of the continent.
3.4 Securing a front seat at the negotiation table
The main international treaties that govern space activity have a common actor that has been the subject of great debate in the past and still are. The question of appropriation of space resources. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty ii is clear that no part of outer space may be appropriated for national or private gain. This is reiterated in the embattled and long contested Moon Treaty,iii which makes a very important provision that now becomes relevant. In its Article 11, the treaty provides that activities on the moon and other celestial bodies should be carried out subject to a subsequent international agreement.
The Building Blocks for the Establishment of an International Framework on Space Resource Activities adopted by the Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group on 12th November 2019, and the Commentary thereto released in 2020, one of the newer and comprehensive documents aimed at paving way for international consensus on state and private exploration of space, also recognises and even recommends that the international community negotiates such agreement with expediency. However, seeing that processes in the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), the main international body concerned with outer space affairs debate, are and can be quite lengthy, I have argued before that the US is trying to lead the way in the debate for this agreement.
It therefore, suffices to note that the partners in the Artemis program may become the pioneers of this agreement, giving them a place of vast importance in the space legal regime. History has shown that it is always better to be on the side that writes history than a spectator in the process. This is the chance for African space actors to write such History and secure their seat at the table of History makers.
3.5 Protection of space interests
With a vantage position in the global space compromise, the African space states can then gain bargaining advantage to protect national interests in the space sector. It can not be denied that space, being an area beyond national jurisdiction, is one of the newest and biggest candidates for abuse by state and private actors. With continuous utilisation of space resources, questions of militarisation of outer space, espionage and reconnaissance satellite usage, space debris and clashes over rights to utilise resources have arisen in the recent past. African space actors can use their position to weigh in on these issues and safeguard their own interests from abuse by other actors to create sustainability of African space programs and initiatives.
3.6 Develop new and emerging areas of space in Africa
The African space industry currently is mainly driven by state actors around various key aspects of their various economies such as agriculture and weather prediction and remote sensing. However, there is a very big potential for the development of many other areas of space engagement that have not been utilised to their fullest potential while others have not yet been tapped. For example, space medicine is still a very novice area in the African space industry, much as is space law and policy. Some areas like space entrepreneurship and private space engagement are still largely untapped. If developed, these areas have the potential to boost the African space sector and it is timely that an initiative like the Accords should give the impetus for all interested African parties to develop these areas.
4.0 Recommendations and Conclusion
While the US and NASA are still building capacity and consensus for the Artemis program, African space actors and emerging space agencies and industries should take very keen interest in this initiative and liaise ways through which they can engage with other space actors for full benefit from the program. Alternatively, African space actors may form a regional bloc that shall formally engage with the Artemis program to advance collective efforts and interests. The bloc will, however, be harder to form as consensus on the continent can take ears to materialise. For the time being, individual actors and states may formally engage with NASA, if their international obligations permit them to.
Some African states are party to the Moon Treaty (see here for treaty ratification status of various states), which the Accords have since denounced as a source of international consensus on space exploration and utilisation of space resources; this stance was emphasised in the Executive Order signed in April 2020 by the White House, the subject of my earlier article. As such, many African states may have to either review their position or propose alternative ways they can engage with NASA that will not obliviate their obligations under the Moon Treaty.
The Accords, however, present an opportunity for those states that may claim certain obligations under international law, to either review their positions or negotiate them. For those that have not yet acquired any such obligations, this is an opportunity to rethink their actions in case they had been contemplating acquiring such obligations.
African space actors should make use of the opportunity presented by the Accords to draw lessons for future space activity and build capacity around the subject or sustainable space initiatives.
Kasibante David (Thandokuhle Mandla Kasibante David) is a young lawyer from Uganda, who is currently completing his bar exam, in Kampala. He is a former student at Makerere University School of Law and will be joining Leiden University, Netherlands for an Advanced Master’s in Air and Space Law, the first Ugandan to ever be admitted to the program. Kasibante is passionate about space sustainability and policy, and he founded Space4Tomorrow, an initiative aimed at achieving these ends. He has written numerous articles and papers on various subjects of Space Law and Policy, and is currently volunteering with the SGAC as a Co-NPoC of Uganda, on top of being a member of the Space Policy and Space Medicine Groups.
i. For a detailed discussion on the Executive Order, see, Kasibante David, (2020), ‘Trump’s Executive Order on Space Exploration; Implications for International Space Law’ accessible at https://www.academia.edu/43711128/TRUMPS_EXECUTIVE_ORDER_ON_SPACE_EXPLORATION_IMPLICATIONS_FOR_INTERNATIONAL_SPACE_LAW
ii. Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, entered into force Oct. 10, 1967, 18 U.S.T. 2410, 610 U.N.T.S. 205
iii. Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, entered into force July 11, 1984, 1363 U.N.T.S. 3