WASHINGTON — Spain is the latest European nation to sign the Artemis Accords, a central element of a new American strategic framework for space diplomacy.

In a May 30 ceremony in Madrid, Spanish government officials signed the Accords, which outline principles for safe and responsible space exploration. Spain is the 25th country to sign the Accords and the second this month, after the Czech Republic May 3.

“As the newest member of the Artemis Accords family, Spain will safeguard our shared ideals by helping ensure that humanity’s rapid expansion into space is done peacefully, safely and transparently,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who attended the ceremony, said in a statement. Unlike the Czech Republic signing, which took place at NASA Headquarters with a week’s advance notice, NASA did not announce the planned signing or Nelson’s trip in advance.

“Space is an example of international collaboration and a priority for our country’s vision,” Spanish President Pedro Sánchez said in the statement. “We are witnessing a commitment by the Government of Spain to a key sector that generates opportunities and high-quality employment, which is a priority and strategic area, essential to help and protect our society.”

Spain has for years been a major contributor to the European Space Agency, but recently has worked to bolster its space presence. The government announced it would establish a national space agency, the Agencia Espacial Española, in 2021, and the agency became operational earlier this year. It is also working to support a growing space industry, such as PLD Space, a launch vehicle startup planning a suborbital launch of a prototype rocket as soon as May 31.

Spain is the eighth ESA member state, and seventh member of the European Union, to sign the Accords. Most major ESA members are now signatories to the Accords, with the notable exception of Germany.

“The Artemis Accords reaching 25 signatories in such a short amount of time demonstrates the robust global support for norms of behavior in space,” Mike Gold, a former NASA official who spearheaded the development of the Accords in 2020 and is now chief growth officer at Redwire, told SpaceNews. He added he hopes the signing will encourage Germany in particular to sign on.

“This latest signing ceremony, occurring so quickly after the Czech Republic signed, demonstrates the momentum that Administrator Nelson and his team have generated in Europe for the Accords,” he said, “and I hope that Germany and many other countries will also commit to implementing the Outer Space Treaty and other international agreements by signing the Accords in the not-too-distant future.”

Space diplomacy framework

The signing ceremony took place the same day as the U.S. State Department released a document called the Strategic Framework for Space Policy, a new white paper that outlined the roles that space can play in diplomacy and vice versa.

“As near Earth space gets more crowded, the Framework will help maintain the rules-based international order and foster cooperation for long-term sustainability, commercialization, exploration and space utilization,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The document is based on existing national space policy, including the most recent update in 2020 as well as the Biden administration’s space policy framework document published in 2021. It cites challenges posed by competitors, namely China and Russia, but also opportunities for international partnership.

“U.S. leadership in space exploration and utilization is among the U.S. government’s most valuable soft power tools and presents strategic opportunities to promote academic and research partnerships, scientific engagement, as well as for public diplomacy to increase awareness among and influence audiences outside the United States on U.S. space diplomacy,” the document states.

One pillar of the framework is “diplomacy for space,” or using international cooperation to advance space policy goals such as a “rules-based international order” for space activities. That specifically includes the Artemis Accords, which the framework describes as a “convening function” for discussions on global space goverance.

“The Artemis Accords are a centerpiece of the United States’ civil space diplomacy,” the document states. “By signing the Artemis Accords, States commit to carrying out activities in the civil exploration and use of outer space in a manner that is both responsible and sustainable.”

Other elements of that pillar include space security through advancing norms and rules of behavior, as well as helping support the growth of the space industry by promoting U.S. space regulatory practices.

A second pillar seeks to advance “space for diplomacy,” using space cooperation to advance American foreign and national security policy goals. Examples of that mentioned in the document are sharing Earth observation data for applications like disaster response and climate change, and using space-based images “to build U.S. credibility and counter false narratives and disinformation.”

A third pillar seeks to provide State Department personnel with the tools and knowledge needed to support space diplomacy. One example of that work mentioned in the document is to create “public diplomacy toolkits to help translate U.S. leadership in outer space exploration and establish a greater appreciation of the U.S. commitment to transparency, open science, and innovation.”

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...