What role will France play in Artémis, NASA’s program to return to the Moon?

What role will France play in Artémis, NASA's program 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 wave of peaceful space exploration. By signing the “Artemis Agreement”, it joins NASA’s American program of the same name, which provides for flights to the Moon in the next two to three years. The ultimate objectives are to establish a lasting human presence there, to create “safety zones” to protect extraterrestrial resources, or even to build a springboard station for more distant manned flights.

Francis Rocard, head of solar system exploration programs at the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), explains to 20 minutes the role that France will play in this great space adventure.

Why does France want to be part of this program?

Unlike the American Apollo missions, carried out almost fifty years ago, the Artemis missions offer various cooperation prospects. “Participating in the Artémis program means being part of a major international and ambitious project. It also means giving ourselves the possibility, via the European Space Agency (ESA), of eventually sending an astronaut to the Moon”, assures Francis Rocard. Because without NASA, neither France nor Europe have the means to carry out such an expedition alone, assures the expert.

Did we really need us?

France is joining the Artémis program after Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and even Brazil… That’s already a lot of people. But thanks to its know-how, France should, through the European Space Agency, directly contribute to this program. This will be the case, for example, with the Esprit module, which will bring communication tools and supplies to the Lunar Gateway, the station in lunar orbit. This module must be designed in France by Thales Alenia Space, told AFP Pascale Ultré-Guérard, deputy director of programs in the strategy department at CNES.

“The European Space Agency has also undertaken to provide transport modules called ESM, which will take astronauts to the Moon on each trip”, adds Francis Rocard. However, the parts of the latter could be made by major manufacturers such as Thales or Airbus, whose centers are in France.

Are French astronauts going to be sent?

“All the contributions of the European Space Agency allow it to legitimately claim to eventually send a European astronaut to the Moon. It’s part of the deal,” explains the head of the National Center for Space Studies. And if for the time being, nothing is fixed, some have already positioned themselves.

Last January, barely back from the International Space Station, Thomas Pesquet assured that the Moon was “the next step”. “With the current dynamic, the place of France, the place of Europe, it is not impossible. So I will do everything in my power to make this happen, I cross my fingers very strongly, ”he said on the set of BFMTV. An optimism still valid. At the end of May, the astronaut claimed to be “in good configuration” to participate in the lunar missions of the Artemis program.

How much will it cost France?

If usual, the signatures of agreements are generally commitments to provide paid services, the Artémis agreements are a little different. “These are agreements in principle, where it is not directly a question of money, tempers Francis Rocard. The signatory countries undertake, for example, to come to the aid of a crew in difficulty. »

What is France’s position on “safe areas”?

In the Artemis agreement, one measure is controversial. It provides, as we said above, the possibility of delimiting “safety zones”, in order in particular to protect the exploitation of resources, such as lunar water. Except that a 1967 treaty prohibits any “national appropriation” of these resources.

On this subject, there have been quite a few discussions in France. To finally conclude that “according to our analysis, the Artemis agreements are not in contradiction with the 1967 treaty”, Pascale Ultré-Guérard told AFP. “France signed because it agrees that exploiting extraterrestrial resources does not mean appropriating the planetary body,” reports Francis Rocard. 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 common good whose resources can be exploited.