South Korea signs Artemis Accords; Brazil, New Zealand likely next

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South Korea is the first of three countries expected to sign the Artemis Accords in the coming weeks

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea signed the Artemis Accords May 27, becoming the 10th signatory to the pact that governs norms of behavior for those who want to participate in the NASA-led Artemis lunar exploration program.

On the same day, South Korea and the United States signed an agreement on “civil global navigation satellite systems cooperation” under which the U.S. will support South Korea developing its own satellite navigation system.

The two events were follow-up measures of the May 21 summit between South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden at the White House, during which the two leaders agreed to strengthen the bilateral partnership in civil space exploration, science, aeronautics research and cooperate for effective joint response against security threats in space.

“For successful space exploration, it is critical to implement space development activities transparently and responsibly by collaborating with the international community,” said Science and ICT Minister Lim Hye-sook who signed the Artemis Accords on behalf of the Korean government. “With the signing of the Artemis Accords, Korea would be able to strengthen cooperation with nations participating in the Accords in exploring outer space.”

NASA’s chief celebrated South Korea’s coming on board.

“I am thrilled the Republic of Korea has committed to the Artemis Accords. Their signature demonstrates the strong momentum worldwide in supporting our Moon to Mars exploration approach,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “Partnering in deep space will ensure our missions are carried out in accordance with important, universal principles like transparency, safety, and peaceful exploration, which are critical to ensuring a safe, and prosperous future in space for all.”

Areas of  cooperation

An initial area of cooperation is expected to include the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), the nation’s first robotic lunar exploration mission, which is set to launch in August 2022 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to image the moon. NASA provided an advanced lunar reconnaissance orbiter camera, nicknamed ShadowCam, to the orbiter in a show of support. In return, a science ministry spokesperson said, the KPLO will be assigned work for NASA’s moon mission identifying areas with water.

“For the Moon mission, it is critical to find an ideal landing area,” the spokesman told Korea JoongAng Daily. “The KPLO will survey and bring together topological information about the Moon, and analysis of the data will play a significant role in selecting or adjusting the landing spot.”

On top of this, shortly after the signing of the Artemis Accords, the science ministry said South Korea and the U.S. signed an agreement on “civil global navigation satellite systems cooperation,” under which the U.S. will support South Korea developing its own GPS, named Korean Positioning System (KPS). South Korea plans to spend 4 trillion won ($3.56 billion) on building KPS by 2035 by launching seven new satellites — three into geosynchronous orbit and four into inclined geosynchronous orbit. The system is supposed to interoperate with the existing GPS, improving the accuracy of measurement across the Korean Peninsula significantly. 

In a post-summit statement, released by the White House, the U.S. said it will support South Korea’s KPS development and enhance its compatibility and interoperability with GPS.

The signing ceremony was held online with senior officials from South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Science and ICT, U.S. State Department and U.S. Department of Commerce.

“The Korea Positioning System is a critical infrastructure [for Korea] in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Shin Jae-sik, a senior official of the Space, Nuclear and Big Science Policy Bureau at the Ministry of Science and ICT, in a statement. “With U.S. support, we will be able to make a successful development.” 

More countries to join Artemis Accords

South Korea is the first of three countries expected to sign the Accords in the coming weeks, based on comments by NASA officials.

“Many additional nations have expressed interest in signing the Artemis Accords, three of which are likely to do so in the next couple of weeks, representing several different regions of the world,” said Karen Feldstein, associate administrator for international and interagency relations at NASA, at a Royal Aeronautical Society conference May 19.

Feldstein did not disclose what countries were likely to sign up, but industry sources say the most likely candidates are Brazil and New Zealand. Brazil signed a joint statement of intent with NASA in December, signaling its interest in joining the accords. New Zealand’s government was interested in the Accords last year, but was delayed by a general election in October.

Eight countries originally signed the Accords in October during the International Astronautical Congress: Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. A ninth country, Ukraine, joined in November.

SpaceNews senior staff writer Jeff Foust contributed to this story from Washington.