WASHINGTON — Belgium has signed the Artemis Accords outlining best practices for responsible behavior in space exploration, becoming the latest major European space power to join.

In a ceremony on the sidelines of the European Space Conference in Brussels Jan. 23, Hadja Lahbib, Belgium’s minister of foreign affairs, and Thomas Dermine, secretary of state for science policy, signed the Artemis Accords on behalf of the Belgian government. Belgium is the 34th country overall, and first so far in 2024, to sign the document.

The Artemis Accords, unveiled by the United States in 2020, outline best practices for responsible behavior in space exploration, building upon the principles in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and other agreements. The non-binding document describes procedures signatories should follow in areas ranging from registration of space objects and release of scientific data to utilization of space resources and deconfliction of space activities.

“The signing of the Artemis Accords reflects our ongoing commitment to sustainable and responsible space, and will strengthen our ties with international partners,” Lahbib said in a statement. “It will also open up new economic opportunities for our companies, which have world-renowned expertise in the space sector.”

“Signing up to the Artemis Accords is part of our cooperation approach and will enable Belgium to join the working group of states that have also signed up to the accords,” Dermine said in the statement.

He added that signing the Accords “is also a necessary and important condition for the possible participation of a Belgian astronaut in a mission under the Artemis program” of human lunar exploration. There is currently one Belgian astronaut in ESA, Raphaël Liégeois, who was selected in the agency’s 2022 class.

Belgium is a major contributor to the European Space Agency, pledging 946 million euros ($1.03 billion) over three years at the 2022 ministerial meeting, the fifth largest among member states after Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. It had been the largest ESA contributor who had not joined the Artemis Accords.

With Belgium’s signing, 12 of ESA’s 22 member states have joined the Artemis Accords, along with 11 of the 27 European Union member states.

“I’m thrilled for Belgium to become the first nation in 2024 to sign the Artemis Accords,” said Mike Gold, chief growth officer at Redwire and a former NASA official who helped spearhead development of the Accords. He noted that Redwire has a facility in Belgium near Antwerp, the former QinetiQ Space, that is building a docking mechanism for the lunar Gateway’s I-Hab international habitation module, “so it can be said that Belgium is literally working to unite Artemis Accords nations.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...