Sultan bin Salman Al Saud
Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family, flew to space on a shuttle mission in 1985 and is to date the only person from Saudi Arabia to go to space. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia is the latest nation to sign the Artemis Accords as part of what the White House called “expanding cooperation” with the United States in space.

The signing of the Accords, which outline best practices for safe and sustainable space exploration, took place in a virtual ceremony July 14 featuring officials from NASA, the U.S. State Department, Saudi Space Commission and the countries’ embassies.

“Today Saudi Arabia adds its voice to a diverse and growing set of nations,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in an agency statement. “Together we can ensure that humanity’s rapid expansion into space, toward the moon and destinations beyond, will be done peaceably, safely and in full accordance with international law.”

“President Biden welcomed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signing the Artemis Accords and reaffirming its commitment to the responsible, peaceful and sustainable exploration and use of outer space,” the White House said in a statement July 15.

That statement outlined outcomes from meetings President Biden held that day in Saudi Arabia with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Those meetings were controversial because of the role the U.S. government believes Mohammed bin Salman played in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The White House statement indicated additional cooperation is planned between the United States and Saudi Arabia in space: “The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are expanding cooperation in all fields of space exploration, including human spaceflight, Earth observation, commercial and regulatory development, and responsible behavior in outer space.” The statement didn’t elaborate on what that cooperation would entail.

Saudi Arabia has a modest space program, with only a few domestically built smallsats. Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, a member of the royal family, flew to space in 1985 as a payload specialist on the STS-51-G shuttle mission, and is the only person from the country to go to space to date. He later served as chairman of the Saudi Space Commission. The country is also home to the headquarters of Arabsat, a regional operator of geostationary communications satellites.

Saudi Arabia is the 21st country to join the Artemis Accords, announced by NASA in October 2020 with eight countries as original signatories. The Accords specify best practices for spaceflight that largely build upon the Outer Space Treaty and related agreements.

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...