WASHINGTON — Two more countries have signed the U.S.-led Artemis Accords outlining best practices in space exploration, one of which did so with no fanfare.

At a Nov. 1 ceremony in Washington, the Netherlands signed the Artemis Accords. Harm van de Wetering, director of the Netherlands Space Office, signed the document at the event attended by NASA and National Space Council officials and the Dutch ambassador to the United States.

“NASA and the Netherlands have been strong partners in space from the early days of spaceflight. Pushing boundaries by technology brings new responsibilities. By signing the Artemis Accords, we underline the values we share in space, and we acknowledge we have a common responsibility,” van de Wetering said in a statement.

The Netherlands had been expected to sign the Accords. In an Oct. 2 statement, Micky Adriaansens, the government’s economic affairs and climate policy minister, said that the Netherlands would sign the Accords while investing 22.2 million euros ($23.6 million) to modernize the European Space Research and Technology Centre, a European Space Agency center in the country.

NASA announced the Artemis Accords in 2020 as a means to outline best practices in safe and responsible space exploration. The document largely builds upon the Outer Space Treaty and other international agreements on topics from registration of space objects and interoperability to utilization of space resources.

The signatories of the Accords met last month at the International Astronautical Congress to discuss progress on two working groups. One is examining how to improve transparency in lunar exploration missions to avoid harmful interference, while the other is examining how to engage other nations to join to the Accords.

“As one of America’s oldest allies, NASA is proud to expand our partnership with the Netherlands and build a future defined by limitless opportunity and discovery,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in the statement.

“The Netherlands have a proud tradition of supporting norms of behavior and peaceful space policies.  For example, the Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group, which was founded in 2016, tackled numerous critical issues including safety zones, due regard and avoiding harmful interference,” Mike Gold, chief growth officer at Redwire and a former NASA official who helped led development of the Accords, told SpaceNews.

“The work in the Hague certainly helped influence the Artemis Accords and I’m excited for the Netherlands to continue contributing to a peaceful and prosperous future in space as the newest signatory to the Accords,” he added.

In the announcement, the Netherlands was described as the 31st country to sign the Artemis Accords, a number that took many observers by surprise. The previous signing ceremony for the Accords, held Sept. 14, brought on Germany as the 29th country.

The NASA statement mentioned near the end that “Iceland became the 30th country to sign the Artemis Accords in October.” That signing was not previously announced by NASA, the U.S. State Department or Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Iceland’s flag was also omitted from an updated NASA graphic that included the Netherlands and 29 other nations.

It is not unprecedented for a country to join the Accords with no fanfare. Ukraine, the first country to sign the Accords after the initial group of eight countries in October 2020, did so on its own in November 2020, later informing the United States.

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...