Lunar Space Cooperation Initiatives


There has been a renewed global interest in lunar and cislunar space activities, with more than 100 robotic and human exploration missions planned over the next decade. At the same time, there is also a renewed discussion of how existing space governance frameworks and principles apply to these new uses, users, and activities on or near the Moon. While some of these discussions are being held in multilateral fora such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS), groups of States have also created their own initiatives.  

This page summarizes the major State-led international civil space lunar initiatives, with a detailed list of how many supporters have signed each initiative and what rationale they gave when they did so (where available). The goal is to document major lunar projects encompassing varied coalitions of states, specifically focused on the political agreements that underpin both initiatives.

The Artemis Accords

The Artemis Accords are a set of principles for lunar activities that was initiated by the United States and first announced in October 2020 with the signing by eight initial countries. The Artemis Accords are related to the Artemis program, a NASA-led initiative to return to the Moon and establish a permanent human presence there that lays the foundation to further exploration to Mars and beyond. NASA and the U.S. State Department are co-leads for the Artemis Accords. 

The relationship between the Artemis Accords and program is often misunderstood. The Artemis Accords are a multilateral document in that all signatories sign on to the same document that was jointly negotiated by the eight founding members. Joining the Artemis program involves signing a separate bilateral agreement with NASA that outlines the contributions an Artemis partner will make and the benefits they will get in return.

The Artemis Accords build on the principles contained in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and apply them to the lunar space activities. The Artemis Accords’ principles address transparency, interoperability, release of scientific data, resource utilization, and more. In 2023, the Artemis Accords partners started a series of working groups to discuss the specifics of how the principles in the Accords will be applied to their future lunar activities.

As of May 28, 2024, the SWF public tracking sheet shows that 40 countries have signed on to the Artemis Accords.

The International Lunar Research Station (ILRS)

The International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) is a lunar initiative led by China and Russia and was released in June 2021. Similar to Artemis, the ILRS consists of both a lunar exploration program and a set of principles for activities undertaken as part of that program. 

In June 2021, China and Russia released the “ILRS Guide for Partnership'' that provides details about the program’s scientific objectives, mission phases, and guidelines for partnership. It outlines the Joint Working Group that will oversee the legal, scientific, and engineering aspects of ILRS. In 2023, China further described the intended creation of an International Lunar Research Station Cooperation Organization (ILRSCO) that would handle the cooperative aspects of the program.

Currently, no details about the ILRS principles are publicly available. It is unclear if signing the ILRS principles will be a prerequisite for participation in the ILRS program and vice-versa. It is also unclear if the ILRS principles will differ significantly from those contained in the Artemis Accords. However, the similarities between the activities planned under Artemis and ILRS (permanent installations, extraction and use of lunar water and mineral resources, and manufacturing on the lunar surface) suggests they will be similar. 

As of May 28, 2024, the SWF public tracking sheet shows 10 countries have signed on to participate in the ILRS.

Last updated on May 28, 2024