On 21 June 2023, India signed the Artemis Accords as its 27th signatory state. India would join the US attempt to land humans on the moon by 2025. Additionally, the Indian private sector will likely work with the Artemis missions, including the Lunar Gateway, establishing a permanent lunar base, and the Mars landing. At the news conference in the White House, Prime Minister Modi said, “By taking the decision to join the Artemis Accords, we have taken a big leap forward in our space cooperation.” The Artemis Accords is a set of practical principles to guide cooperation and space exploration among nations. This includes the members participating in the NASA Artemis Program.
On 6 and 7 July 2023, India organised the fourth edition of the Space Economy Leaders’ Meeting (SELM) under its G20 Presidency. The event marked the presence of the future of India’s Space industry. A precursor to the event was held in April 2023 in Shillong, Meghalaya. The Space20 meeting was themed ‘Towards a New Space ERA (Economy, Responsibility, Alliance)’ and included the heads of national space agencies from 18 of the G20 countries. It had the participation of senior representatives from 32 global industries and 53 local industries. The SELM in Bengaluru was significant for its representation of the private space industry, the coverage of a vast expanse of space-application sectors, the meetings between heads of space agencies and the bilateral meetings.
Following the release of India’s Space policy in April 2023, a more prominent role of the private sector was emphasised in the functioning of the Indian Space sector institutionalisation. The subsequent cases of signing the Artemis Accords and the successful in-person SELM mark significant milestones in the diplomatic approach of India’s Space sector, where the emphasis is on new levels of progress through cooperation. While Artemis Accords work on upholding the principles of the foundational norms of Space, the G20 SELM brings together high-functioning economies, encouraging the collective abilities of the countries for progress.
Global space cooperation has been integral to India’s space programme, providing satellite launch support from 33 countries. India also has some form of agreements with over 60 countries and five multinational bodies. The functions of these include satellites, technological support, training and assistance. The decade of 2020s has seen many successful missions and initiatives and the space sector’s exponential growth. In the context of the growing relevance of Outer Space, the Artemis Accords were formulated in October 2020. The Space Economy Leaders Meeting, also a new initiative, was developed under the G20 presidency of Saudi Arabia and was organised by the Saudi Space Commission in October 2020. India’s keen engagement with both initiatives reiterates the importance of regional/global coordination in the space domain.
As the activities in Space increase, the sustainability of the space domain has consistently been identified as a strategic priority for countries to address. Space activities are an enabler of the continued growth of the national economy. While self-sufficiency and indigenisation have been popular trends in space technology investments, the broader range of data generated from assets in Outer Space would require careful coordination among countries to refer to the issues that are a common concern to humankind; for example, a more profound understanding of the origins and the science of Earth, socioeconomic applications of space, or understanding weather patterns, or climate change. Additionally, cooperative mechanisms increase the scope of collaborative efforts between the various sub-sectors of the industry, specifically for private space companies/startups. With 20 leading economic powers, the commercial space industry would benefit from working together on joint projects, complementing each other’s technological abilities, and working towards establishing common standards within the industry.
On the other hand, Artemis Accords expands the horizon of knowledge and capabilities of its signatories to advance its understanding of the moon, deep space, and even the Earth. The accords draw from the foundations of the Outer Space treaty and uphold the principle of conducting space activities for peaceful purposes, and identify the importance of data-sharing among signatory countries in a timely manner. The accords highlight the need for debris mitigation to ensure the safe disposal of orbital waste and limit the threats emerging from them. Beyond exploration and space economy, the following three factors in the Artemis Accords must be viewed carefully: First is the preservation of Heritage sites, where the signatories can preserve relevant landing sites, artefacts, and other activity as a heritage; Second, the Utilisation of Space resources to support the safe, sustainable activities of the signatories, and Third, the non-interference with the activities of other signatories. The Artemis Accords, thus, act as a careful combination of the old and the new that addresses the limitations of the space activities of the New Space Age. However, it is non-binding and is possibly one of the more active international cooperation mechanisms in the present decade. The immediate output for India would be fast-tracking India’s human spaceflight efforts. It would also provide the Indian planetary science community with the opportunity to tap into the wealth of knowledge of the West. However, these efforts require a significant effort within the country to scale up the abilities.
As a well-established Space Power, it is of utmost priority to ensure that the country’s various operational and scientific systems remain well-oiled and functional to shape the global efforts at catalysing the space industry’s growth. It is also important to note that there is a microscopic yet significant trend of global relevance, of a slowdown in the output- with launch delays and private companies revealing budget shortages. These issues must be addressed at the cooperative forums, and countries/signatories must aspire to minimise the challenges of the ongoing geopolitical failures on the space sector performances.
Harini Madhusudan is a PhD Scholar at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS.