Artemis Accords France signing
Philippe Baptiste, president of the French space agency CNES (left), and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson at a June 7 event where France formally joined the Artemis Accords. Credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

WASHINGTON — France joined the U.S.-led Artemis Accords June 7, a long-anticipated but significant milestone for the effort to establish best practices for sustainable space exploration.

In a ceremony at the French ambassador’s resident here, Philippe Baptiste, president of the French space agency CNES, signed the Artemis Accords alongside NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. The signing ceremony was part of an event to mark the 60th anniversary of CNES.

“We have drawn inspiration from the success of the International Space Station, and we are now entering a new chapter in human exploration,” Baptiste said in remarks at the event.

France becomes the 20th nation to sign the Accords, which started with a core group of the United States and seven other countries in October 2020. The United States established the Accords in an effort to establish norms of behavior on topics ranging from the exchange of scientific data to utilization of space resources, building upon the Outer Space Treaty and other agreements.

“These set forth a framework for the peaceful exploration of space, and sets norms and values and objectives,” said Nelson at the event, giving the example of one provision of the Accords, rendering assistance in the event of an emergency.

France signaled its interest in signing the Artemis Accords last fall, when French President Emmanuel Macron met with Vice President Kamala Harris. At a December meeting of the National Space Council, Harris mentioned France’s intention to sign the Accords but did not estimate when it would take place.

“I applaud France for affirming its commitment to the peaceful, responsible and sustainable exploration of outer space,” Harris said in a tweet June 7 after France signed the Accords.

A steady stream of countries has signed the Accords since their introduction in 2020, including many nontraditional spacefaring nations such as Bahrain and Colombia. France, by contrast, is among the leading nations in both government and commercial space activities, and is a major player in both the European Space Agency and the European Union.

Signing the accords, industry insiders say, helps dispel the notion of European reticence to sign, or even opposition to, the Accords. Five of the 20 signatories — France, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland and Romania — are E.U. members.

“Today’s signature is not just a victory for America and France, our nation’s first international ally, but represents a dramatic step forward for norms of behavior generally,” said Mike Gold, executive vice president for civil space and external affairs at Redwire and a former NASA official who led the development of the Accords. “France joining the already robust Artemis Accords family of nations shows that there is a strong desire globally to honor and implement the principles of the Outer Space Treaty and other international agreements.”

The Artemis Accords was not the only agreement the two nations signed June 7. At a separate event, the United States, represented by NOAA, formally joined the Space Climate Observatory, a French-led effort to share satellite data to monitor climate change.

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...