Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 did little to slow down the quest for comradery in space. The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Artemis Program was created to work with like-minded civil space agencies around the world to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. Under the Artemis Accords, which were formally adopted on October 13, 2020, countries who sign on will be part of a “common vision via a practical set of principles, guidelines, and best practices to enhance the governance of the civil exploration and use of outer space […] intended to apply to civil space activities conducted […] on the Moon, Mars, comets, and asteroids, including their surfaces and subsurfaces, as well as in orbit of the Moon or Mars, in the Lagrangian points for the Earth-Moon system, and in transit between these celestial bodies and locations.” The virtual signing ceremony saw two stalwart US allies, Australia and Japan, be among the first to join the Accord.
The signing of the Artemis Accords in 2020 marks 60 years of cooperation in space between the United States and Australia. Under the Artemis program in 2019, Australia pledged to assist the United States in its mission of landing more people on the Moon by 2024 and its government pledged $150 million to fund NASA’s plans in the venture. In late October 2020, just two weeks after the signing of the Artemis Accords, NASA was able to successfully re-establish communications with its Voyager 2 spacecraft after conducting repairs on its Deep Space Station 43. Located in Canberra, Australia, this Station is the only one capable of sending such communications to Voyager 2, which had been unable to transmit back to NASA since early March 2020. NASA and Australia are also working together to improve safety measures closer to home. Australia’s research consortium SmartSat Cooperative Research Center (CRC) partnered with NASA in September 2020 to improve distress-related communications and navigation technology, in particular emergency beacons that can aid first responders worldwide during search and rescue missions. It is hoped that this technology will aid in the recovery of astronauts when they touch back down on Earth after their missions in upcoming Artemis projects as well. And to better understand the effects of environmental disasters, NASA is assisting the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to highlight the impact of Australia’s forest fires on the atmosphere.
Japan has also shared a robust relationship with the United States in the field of space exploration. In 1969 the two countries signed “The Japan-U.S. Joint Communique,” which paved the way for collaboration between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA. When the International Space Station (ISS) was launched in 1998, Japan was one of the founding partners and has over the decades sent both personnel and supplies to the ISS. Since 2009, JAXA’s H-II Transfer Vehicle 9 (HTV-9) unpiloted, disposable transport ships have sent supplies to the ISS and the astronauts who reside there. Though the HTV-9 series flew its last mission in May 2020, JAXA’s new line of HTV-X ships, set to debut in 2022, will have even more utility including the ability to dock themselves and go to and return from the ISS. In November 2020, fresh from signing the Artemis Accords, Japan’s Ispace Inc., a lunar exploration start-up, announced plans to set up a US-based lunar lander development site utilizing the expertise of US engineers in Colorado to facilitate future deliveries to the Moon by the private sector. In order to fulfill the requirements of the Artemis program, which requests that all technology that will benefit the mission in 2024 be made from 50% US-made components, Ispace Inc. will be well-placed with this partnership to assist in the launch of these deliveries which are scheduled to begin in 2021.
Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.