On 14 July 2022, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the “KSA”) signed the Artemis Accords, an international agreement that sets out principles for peaceful cooperation in the civil exploration and use of the Moon, Mars, comets and asteroids. The KSA’s signature on this cutting-edge treaty signals its Government’s continued commitment to technological innovation and economic diversification, in this case by developing the country’s space industry even further.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia joins many other key States in signing the Artemis Accords
On 14 July 2022, His Excellency Dr Mohammed bin Saud Al-Tamimi, CEO of the Saudi Space Commission (the “SSC”), signed the Artemis Accords on behalf of the KSA, in a virtual ceremony attended by officials from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”), the US State Department and the Embassies of both the US and the KSA. (See link and link).
The next day, on 15 July 2022, the US expressed its pleasure at this significant development. The White House noted that “President Biden welcomed the [KSA] signing the Artemis Accords and reaffirming its commitment to the responsible, peaceful and sustainable exploration and use of outer space”. His Excellency Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swahha, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the SSC, similarly commented that “Joining Artemis Accords reaffirms the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to empower people, safeguard the planet and shape new frontiers”.
The KSA has signed the Artemis Accords against the backdrop of a rapidly growing Saudi space industry, which is part of the Government’s commitment to economic diversification and advancement as part of Vision 2030.
The KSA’s transition into becoming a space power is driven by the SSC, which was founded in 2018. Reportedly, the SSC has plans to make billions of dollars of investments in the Saudi space programme by 2030. Two examples of the SSC’s projects include the Ajyal Space Programme, which aims to “develop, train and retain the human capital in the space sector” and the Summer Program for Space Science and Technology in Riyadh later this August.
Part of the Saudi space industry’s growth will reportedly also come from cooperation with other space powers, including but not limited to the US. As announced by the White House “[t]he U.S. and Saudi Arabia are expanding cooperation in all fields of space exploration, including human spaceflight, earth observation, commercial and regulatory development, and responsible behavior in outer space”. Also this year, the SSC signed two other important international agreements: a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Kingdom Space Agency and a Memorandum of Understanding with the Italian Space Agency.
Background to the Artemis Accords
The Artemis Accords were first adopted on 13 October 2020, by eight founding States. There are now 21 Signatory States. The KSA is the third State from the Gulf region to sign the Artemis Accords, after Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
The Artemis Accords are a set of principles, guidelines and best practices, proposed by the US. They aim, as NASA described, “to guide space exploration cooperation among nations participating in 21st century lunar exploration plans”. Signing the Artemis Accords is also a prerequisite to participating in the Artemis Programme, the US-led programme to land the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2025.
The provisions of the Artemis Accords span a broad range of space activities. They concern, among other activities: (a) peacefully exploring the Moon; (b) safely disposing of space debris; (c) offering emergency assistance to astronauts; (d) preserving space heritage; and (e) extracting and utilising space resources.
Relevance to space mining
One of the potentially more contentious elements of the Artemis Accords pertains to space resources. The Artemis Accords take a permissive approach to space mining. By declaring that the extraction of space resources is not necessarily national appropriation, the Artemis Accords express support for the commercial and potential unilateral extraction of Moon’s resources. (See Section 10(2)).
In contrast, some might argue that the 1979 Moon Agreement might not permit unilateral mining of the Moon’s resources based on the grounds that the Moon’s natural resources are the “common heritage of mankind”. States Parties to the Moon Agreement also agreed “to establish an international regime” for exploitation of the natural resources of the Moon (See Articles 11(1), (3) and (5)).
Only 18 States are Parties to the Moon Agreement. Notably, the KSA, Australia and Mexico are Parties to the Moon Agreement and have also adopted the Artemis Accords. This presents evidence that the terms of the treaty and the Accords may not be in conflict.
The signing of the Artemis Accords is a significant step toward further expansion of the KSA’s space industry. All States can learn a lesson from the KSA’s approach to developing itself into a space power. As shown by the KSA, the process requires a government to focus on: (a) committing the funds for the development of space technology; (b) creating or updating a space law; (c) properly adopting and understanding the public international law related to space; and (d) managing the entire project from a well-organised entity or set of entities.