What role will France play in Artemis, NASA’s plan to return to the moon?

But what are we going to do on the moon? On Tuesday, France became the 20th country to join a new round of peaceful space exploration. By signing the “Artemis Accords,” it joined NASA’s U.S. program of the same name, which provides for a flight to the moon within the next two to three years. The ultimate goal is to establish a lasting human presence there, create “safe zones” to protect extraterrestrial resources, and even build springboard stations for further manned flights.

Francis Rocard, director of the National Center for Space Research (CNES) Solar System Exploration Program, explained 20 minutes The role that France will play in this great space adventure.

Why does France want to be part of this plan?

Unlike the U.S. Apollo missions that flew nearly fifty years ago, the Artemis mission offered a variety of prospects for cooperation. “Participating in the Artémis program means being part of a major international and ambitious project. It also means making ourselves possible, through the European Space Agency (ESA), to finally put an astronaut on the moon”, Francis Rocar (Francis Rocard) Guarantee. Because without NASA, neither France nor Europe would be able to carry out such an expedition alone, experts assure.

Do we really need us?

After Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and even Brazil, France joined the Artémis program…that’s a lot of people already. But because of its expertise, France should contribute directly to the programme through the European Space Agency. This is the case, for example, with the Esprit module, which will bring communications tools and supplies to the Lunar Orbiting Station Lunar Gateway. The module had to be designed in France by Thales Alenia Space, Pascale Ultré-Guérard, deputy director of projects at CNES’s strategy department, told AFP.

“The European Space Agency has also committed to supply the transport module, called the ESM, which will take astronauts to the moon on every trip,” added Francis Rocar. However, parts for the latter may be made by major manufacturers, such as Thales or Airbus, with their centres in France.

Will French astronauts be sent?

“All the contributions of the European Space Agency allow it to legitimately claim to have finally put a European astronaut on the moon. This is part of the deal,” explained the head of the National Space Research Center. If nothing is fixed for a while, some people have positioned themselves.

Just back from the International Space Station in January last year, Thomas Pesquite assured the moon was “the next step”. “With the current dynamics, where France is, where Europe is, it’s not impossible. So I’m going to do it as best I can, and I’m very determined to cross my fingers,” he said on the set of BFMTV. Optimism remains relevant. At the end of May, the astronaut claimed to be “in good physical condition” for the Artemis mission to the moon.

How much will it cost in France?

Typically, the signed agreement promises to provide paid services, while the Artemis agreement is slightly different. “These are agreements in principle, it’s not a direct question of money, Francis Rocard is grumpy. Signatories, for example, pledge to help crews in trouble. »

What is France’s position on the “safe zone”?

In the Artemis agreement, a measure is controversial. As we said above, it offers the possibility to delineate “safe zones”, especially to protect the exploitation of resources such as lunar water. Except for a 1967 treaty that prohibits any “state appropriation” of these resources.

There has been a lot of discussion in France on this issue. It was concluded that “according to our analysis, the Artemis agreement does not contradict the 1967 treaty”, Pascale Ultré-Guérard told AFP. “France signed the agreement because it agreed to develop extraterrestrial resources does not imply possession of planetary bodies,” reports Francis Rocar. It’s a bit like international waters on Earth. They belong to everyone, but we have the right to fish there. Clearly, the moon is a public good from which resources can be exploited.

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