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A framework for future space exploration activities – background information

In , Canada signed the Artemis Accords, an important first step towards establishing a framework for future space exploration activities. Consultations with Canadians will help the Government further solidify this framework and shape Canada's future space exploration endeavours. You are invited to consult the background materials below before submitting your views.

Canada's role in space exploration

Space exploration increases our knowledge of our planet and universe, encourages research and discoveries, and creates new business opportunities in Canada, improving our daily lives. Canada has a long history of involvement in space exploration, perhaps most notably as a partner on the International Space Station (ISS). Our international collaboration in space exploration has enabled opportunities for scientific discovery and technological innovation that are not possible on Earth.

Countries around the world are looking to deepen partnerships and explore farther into our solar system. In general, these plans are reflected in the Global Exploration Roadmap published by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, of which the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is a member.

Individual space agencies also have their own specific plans. For example, NASA's Artemis program is an initiative to:

Canada's space exploration plans are laid out in the Space Strategy.

Canada is gearing up for missions to the Moon and beyond. Working in close collaboration with NASA and other ISS partners, Canada is contributing Canadarm3, an advanced robotic system that will be able to work autonomously on the Lunar Gateway. Canada will explore the lunar surface through its Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program.

Canada is also taking part in the next chapter of Mars exploration, through participation in missions such as Mars 2020 that enable scientific discovery and prepare for human missions on the red planet.

Even sectors unrelated to space have included space in their future plans. For example, space is identified as a potential new frontier for mining in the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan.

The "rules of the road" for space exploration

Given the complexity, risk, and cost associated with space activities, shared principles of conduct, or "rules of the road," will help ensure that space exploration is undertaken safely and sustainably.

A series of treaties established through the United Nations in the 1960s and 1970s forms the basis of the legal framework on how to conduct space exploration activities:

Over time, the depth and breadth of space exploration has expanded. A growing number of governments and commercial parties have pursued space initiatives, leading the international community to supplement the "rules" laid out in the treaties with additional guidelines. For example, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space developed the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities Guidelines. An international consortium, the Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group, developed guidelines related to the extraction of resources in outer space. These guidelines will continue to shape future discussions around nascent mission areas.

Artemis Accords

The Artemis Accords are a set of principles designed to guide the safe and sustainable exploration and use of outer space. The CSA worked closely with NASA and the other signatories on the Accords. Given the strong alignment of the Artemis Accords with existing obligations under the Outer Space Treaty, Canada signed the Artemis Accords in . The Accords are an important achievement for safe and sustainable space exploration. However, more work is needed to further solidify the framework for emerging exploration activities, both nationally and internationally.

The Government of Canada will continue working with international partners and within the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to further develop and refine the international framework for the next chapter of space exploration.

A closer look at the Artemis Accords

The Artemis Accords reinforce international commitment to the existing treaties, agreements, and conventions listed above, as well as other norms of behaviour, such as the full and public release of scientific data.

Specifically, the principles of the Artemis Accords are:

  • Peaceful Exploration: All activities conducted under the Artemis program are for exclusively peaceful purposes;
  • Transparency: Artemis Accords signatories will conduct their activities in a transparent fashion to avoid confusion and conflicts and enhance global scientific benefits;
  • Interoperability: Nations participating in the Artemis program will strive to support interoperable systems to enhance safety and sustainability;
  • Emergency Assistance: Artemis Accords signatories commit to assisting astronauts in distress;
  • Registration of Space Objects: Artemis Accords signatories recommit to the Registration Convention as a means of ensuring the safety of deep-space activities;
  • Release of Scientific Data: Artemis Accords signatories commit to the full and public release of scientific information, for the advancement of scientific discovery;
  • Protecting Heritage: Just like we do on Earth, Artemis Accords signatories commit to respecting historically significant sites and working through multilateral efforts to develop rules and best practices;
  • Space Resources: Extracting and utilizing space resources is key to safe and sustainable exploration, and the Artemis Accords signatories agree that such activities should be conducted in compliance with the Outer Space Treaty;
  • Deconfliction of Activities: Artemis Accords signatories commit to preventing harmful interference and supporting the principle of due regard, as required by the Outer Space Treaty; and
  • Orbital Debris: Artemis Accords signatories commit to planning for the safe disposal of debris.

Space resource utilization

Key resources for space exploration missions include water, oxygen, propellant, and materials for life support and infrastructure. As the international community plans missions to more distant destinations such as the lunar surface and beyond, supplying these resources from Earth becomes increasingly complex, costly, and risky.

Enabling the extraction and use of these resources in space (i.e. "space resource utilization") rather than transporting material from Earth could address this issue. This shift has also generated interest in the commercial potential of space resource utilization. Some estimates have valued these prospective activities and resources on a scale of billions of dollars.

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