WASHINGTON D.C. — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine today unveiled the “Artemis Accords” — a set of principles designed to allow the U.S. collaborate with other national space programs and private companies worldwide in the next great push to the Moon and beyond. The Accords build on the Outer Space Treaty (OST) and three subsequent conventions.

This is one small step for NASA, but it’s not really a giant leap for space law,” said James Dunstan, General Counsel of TechFreedom, who has practiced commercial space law since 1983. “When I wrote the first commercial lease in space, for the Mir station back in 1999, I used a standard office building lease because well-developed legal principles are usually the best place to start for something radically new. And that’s what NASA’s doing here: they’re building on well-established international space law and the model of the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) for the International Space Station first negotiated in 1988. Realistically, bilateral agreements offer the only path forward on a workable legal regime for the early stages of lunar development.”

But to allow the development of a peaceful and prosperous future in space, we’ll need a more dynamic system that isn’t driven entirely by NASA,” continued Dunstan. “Our international partners will want a neutral mechanism for resolving disputes — and our rivals will demand it, or simply ignore a multilateral approach to space governance. American companies will need that, too, to govern their interactions with NASA and with each other. NASA was never designed to be a regulatory agency, and shouldn’t be. Instead, the federal courts should adjudicate those domestic disputes based on clear standards of non-interference drawn directly from the Treaty. That will allow our domestic system to harmonize with a future international system. Congress could pass such legislation quickly, even though the multilateral system will take more time to develop. In both cases, the goal should be fairness and predictability of the law — just as with tort law on Earth. Getting the regulatory framework correct is not only the most important part of moving forward in space, it ultimately may be the longest pole in the tent.”

The most important thing will be fleshing out how to apply the Treaty’s principles of ‘noninterference,’ and ‘freedom to use,’” noted Dunstan. “In particular, we hope that both standards and enforcement mechanisms can be agreed upon to head off the problems of debris that are now plaguing our use of Earth orbits. In the end, the Artemis Accords must reflect buy-in from all branches of the U.S. government, not just NASA, and from our international partners as well.”

Just as the Internet thrived because standards-setting was done by engineers, not politicians, so, too, will the success of lunar development depend on getting the standards-setting process right from the start,” concluded Dunstan. “You can’t really talk about safety zones until you know what the standards for judging, and mitigating interference will be — and how fair or neutral the standards-setting process will be.” 


Find or share this release on our website, or reshare it on Twitter. We can be reached for comment at media@techfreedom.org. See our other work on space law, including:

  • Our 2017 statement: Revived National Space Council Could Mean Space Policy Rethink
  • Jim Dunstan contributed substantially to the FastSpace Study for Air University in 2016.
  • Tech Policy Podcast #165: Regulating the Universe
  • Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our space law series on the Tech Policy Podcast
  • Our statement on the 2015 law establishing a light-touch approach to space regulation
  • Wired op-ed: How the US Can Lead the Way to Extraterrestrial Land Deals
  • Wired op-ed: Space Law: Is Asteroid Mining Legal