Context: The US has invited India to join the Artemis accords. Separately, at the summit of the Quadrilateral Forum, QUAD leaders agreed to set up a new Quad working group on outer space. 

  • The growing commercialisation and militarisation of outer space have triggered the interest of the Quad leaders.

Significance of Moon exploration

  • As technological capabilities grow, nations are looking beyond near-earth space ( also called the “brown waters”) to inter-planetary probes and deep space research.
  • Nations are seeking routine access to the moon. Their attention has turned to the cis-lunar space, or the volume between the orbits around the earth and moon.

China’s Lunar Missions

  • Beijing’s lunar mission, Chang’e, was unveiled in 2007. Since then, China has put two spacecraft in lunar orbit (Chang’e 1 and 2) and landed two rovers on the moon (Chang’e 3 and 4). 
    • Chang’e is the first to land on the far side of the moon that can’t be seen from the earth. 
    • The Chang’e 5 brought lunar material back to the earth. The last time a mission returned with lunar rock was the Soviet Luna 24 in 1976.
    • The next moon missions — Chang’e 6,7, and 8 — could contribute to the construction of an International Lunar Research Station in the south pole of the moon. 
  • International Lunar Research Station: The ILRS will have a space station orbiting the Moon, a base on the surface that will have several intelligent robots performing a variety of jobs. 
    • To support the ILRS, Beijing aims to build a super-heavy rocket Long March CZ-9
    • It is expected to carry at least 50 tonnes to the moon. For a comparison, the payload of the Chandrayaan-2 launched by India’s PSLV rocket in July 2019 was about four tonnes.

Russia’s Moon explorations

  • Russia, once a leading space actor, has now joined hands with China on the ILRS. Russia is reviving its Luna series of probes to the moon to complement the Chinese efforts.
  • Luna 25, 26 and 27 will work in tandem with Chang’e 6,7 and 8 to undertake expansive reconnaissance and develop techniques for ultra-precise landings on the moon. 
  • Together, these missions will lay the basis for the second stage of ILRS — a joint construction of the lunar base — starting from 2026.
  • Russia is also threatening to cut off space cooperation with the US. It is a cooperation that emerged during the Cold War and has expanded since then.
  • The US reached the moon in the 1960s. It shut down the Apollo programme in the early 1970s. 
  • Geopolitics is driving Russia towards China. Space cooperation has become an extension of their strategic partnership against America. 
    • The broad advance of Beijing’s space programme, across the civilian and military domains, and its deepening collaboration with Moscow has shaken America.

Artemis Accords

  • The Trump administration announced plans to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024. The new project was named Artemis.
  • Artemis Accords are an agreement to abide by a broad set of principles to guide the expanding human activity on the moon – ranging from mining resources to setting up lunar colonies.
  • It involves the construction of a permanent space station orbiting the moon, called Lunar Gateway, and a surface presence at the south pole of the moon that is supposed to have ice and could sustain future human activity. 
  • The Artemis Accords will describe a shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to create a safe and transparent environment which facilitates exploration, science, and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy.
  • The eight signatories were from Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States. Since then, many others have joined — Brazil, South Korea, New Zealand, and Ukraine.
  • The US is looking for partners for its Artemis programme.

Significance of Artemis Accords- Preserving the Outer Space Treaty(OST)

  • The OST says outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, “is not subject to “national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”. 
    • It declares that outer space shall be the “province of all mankind” and its use “be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries”.
  • One of the consequences of the growing lunar activity is the pressure on the current international space legal regime — the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. 
    • Earlier there were no capabilities on the earth to exploit outer space for commercial and military gain. That situation is changing, due to the advances in space technologies and the expansive investment of resources by major powers.
    • The breakdown of the post-Cold War harmony among the major powers has added fuel to the fire on the moon and set the stage for a prolonged geopolitical contestation for the moon.
  • The US is promoting the Artemis Accords to preserve the OST regime in relation to the moon and promote transparency, interoperability, emergency assistance, and peaceful international cooperation. 

Way forward

  • The Artemis Accords would help Delhi to initiate a comprehensive review of India’s interests on the moon and develop strategies to pursue them through a stronger national lunar mission and deeper partnerships with like-minded countries
  • Delhi must also legislate a strong regulatory framework to promote India’s space activity and protect its international interests. 
  • Involvement of private sector: It is the commercial sector that must set the pace for progress within India. 
  • As commercial and military activity in outer space grows, the 20th-century agreements like the Outer Space Treaty and Moon Agreement of 1979 need reinforcement and renewal.

India should take a hard look at the emerging challenges to the current space order, review some of its past political assumptions about the nature of outer space and contribute to the development of new global norms that will strengthen the essence of the Outer Space Treaty.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty 

  • It bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in outer space, prohibits military activities on celestial bodies, and details legally binding rules governing the peaceful exploration and use of space.
  • The treaty entered into force Oct. 10, 1967, and has 110 states-parties, with another 89 countries that have signed it but have not yet completed ratification.
  • India is party to the treaty.

Moon Agreement of 1979

  • The agreement forbids the establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications on the Moon and the testing of any type of weapons, and the conduct of military maneuvers on the Moon
  • But the use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes is not prohibited.
  • India signed this ‘Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, but never ratified it.

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