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NASA and ESA sign simple lunar exploration agreement

In what appears to be an attempt by both to maintain their working relationship, even though several major European nations have not yet signed the Artemis Accords, last week NASA and ESA signed a simple agreement reaffirming their desire to work together in exploring the Moon.

Neither ESA nor NASA published the agreement, which in a photograph appeared to be little more than one page. In a Sept. 23 statement, NASA described the agreement as a “non-binding joint statement” about current and prospective future cooperation in Artemis.

Of ESA’s members, only France, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, and the United Kingdom have signed the Artemis Accords. Thus, ESA and NASA face a conundrum. According to the accords and the NASA policy established by the Trump administration and supposedly continued under Biden, only signatories can participate in the Artemis program. Yet, most of the members of ESA have not signed, and ESA has no authority to make them do so. ESA however is building the service module for the Orion capsule — as well as other major components of Artemis — which NASA must have.

I suspect this short one page agreement is the Biden administration’s under-handed admission that — when it comes to Europe — the Artemis Accords will no longer be required.

Conscious Choice cover

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6 comments

  • Richard M

    I suspect this short one page agreement is the Biden administration’s under-handed admission that — when it comes to Europe — the Artemis Accords will no longer be required.

    Quite possibly. But the Biden Administration is not likely to be in power when any of these notional missions will fly anyway.

    It could also be that there will end up being multiple “tiers” to participation in Artemis.

  • D. Messier

    The Space News story mentions that it will help ESA to prepare for the upcoming Ministerial Meeting in November where priorities are set and programs approved by representatives of ESA member nations. It gives the ESA Director General more leeway to propose additional elements to the existing cooperation to the ministers.

    I doubt it has anything to do with the Artemis Accords.

  • Edward

    D. Messier wrote: “I doubt it has anything to do with the Artemis Accords.

    In a Sept. 23 statement, NASA described the agreement as a “non-binding joint statement” about current and prospective future cooperation in Artemis.

    Since cooperation in Project Artemis requires being a signatory to the Artemis Accords, then NASA has described the agreement incorrectly.

    Aschbacher mentioned both the European Large Logistics Lander and Moonlight in comments at a heads-of-agencies panel at the conference Sept. 18, saying that, if funded, they could be developed “in exchange for astronaut flights,” something he added was yet to be negotiated with NASA.

    Clearly, Aschbacher expects ESA participation in Artemis.

    From Wikipedia:

    The Artemis Accords are a series of bilateral agreements between the United States government and other world governments participating in the Artemis Program, …

    Bridenstine stated that the agreements were intended to create a uniform set of guidelines for countries to avoid potential conflict or misunderstanding in future space endeavors; governments that sign the Accords may formally take part in the Artemis Program.

    Since signing the Accords is required to formally take part in the Artemis Program, it seems that ESA’s part must be informal. Unless this agreement is NASA’s way of getting around the signature requirement, in which case this has much to do with the Artemis Accords as a workaround to signatory status.

  • GaryMike

    Europe knows it needs to remain relevant to gain access to solar system resources ($$$) in cannot obtain on its own.

  • GaryMike

    “Allies” is an actual thing, even for us.

  • D. Messier

    ESA is already a partner in Artemis. It’s supplying service modules for Orion and elements of the lunar gateway. Other partners include Canada and Japan. These are formal agreements worked out years ago.

    The document NASA and ESA just signed says these are areas we’re cooperating in and could cooperate in in the future. Aschbacher can go to ministers and say these are other areas NASA is willing to work with us on, can you fund the following programs?

    Agreement doesn’t commit either side to anything. Expanded cooperation is contingent on ministers approving ESA programs and negotiations with NASA.

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