Why is NASA allotting a standard time for the moon?

The story so far: In September 2025, NASA’s four-member Artemis crew is scheduled fly around the moon in preparation for the space agency’s mission to land on the moon again. To boost such scientific missions, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on April 2, directed its space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to establish a Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC) to standardise cislunar operations with the universal time followed on Earth.

Explaining the move, OSTP Deputy Director for National Security Steve Welby said, “A consistent definition of time among operators in space is critical to successful space situational awareness capabilities, navigation, and communications.”

Speaking about the difference between the passage of time on the moon and Earth, he said, “Time appears to pass more slowly where gravity is stronger, like near celestial bodies. As a result, the length of a second on Earth is different to an observer under different gravitational conditions, such as on the moon.”

This outstanding view of the full moon was photographed from the Apollo 11 spacecraft during its trans-Earth journey homeward in 1969.
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The LTC will be the standard to measure cislunar operations — space activities between the moon and Earth — with Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the global time used to regulate time on Earth. Roping in federal departments like the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Defense, State, and Transportation, the White House has set a deadline of December 31, 2026, for NASA and its international partners to deliver a strategy to implement LTC.

The project falls under the current administration’s National Cislunar Science and Technology Strategy. NASA has been directed to engage with the 39 nations who have signed the Artemis Accords for this project. It is expected to present its consideration of the LTC by December 31, 2024 as part of its Moon-to-Mars Architecture Concept Review cycle.

What is Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC)?

In 2023, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a project called ‘Moonlight’ to design satellites for astronauts and robotic explorers, which will be used to support NASA’s moon mission ‘Artemis.’ While working on the project, questions arose on setting a single time zone for the moon and how to go about it.

Speaking to the publication Wired, ESA engineer Javier Ventura-Traveset said, “On Earth, we use a 24-hour day based on the planet’s rotation. However, the moon rotates much more slowly – every 29.5 Earth days.” Due to its slow rotation, it would be practical to have less than Earth’s 24 time zones — ideally, a single time zone for the moon would be natural, said Mr. Ventura-Traveset, highlighting that this would be similar to the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

The idea for the UTC was formulated in the 1960s. Atomic clocks — devices that measure time based on the vibration of atoms — are known for their extreme accuracy in measuring time. Meanwhile, solar time, calculating by measuring the rotation of Earth on its axis relative to the Sun, is variable in nature. A weighted average of hundreds of atomic clocks produces the International Atomic Time (TAI).

The UTC was designed as a way to accommodate the difference between solar time and atomic time, and is kept within 0.9 seconds of solar time to follow Earth’s rotation variations and within an exact number of seconds of the TAI. Currently, moon missions follow the time of the country which operates the spacecraft, while the International Space station (ISS) runs on the UTC. However, a standardised time for space and the moon is not followed.

The International Space Station’s “window to the world” is pictured from the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module.

The International Space Station’s “window to the world” is pictured from the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module.

“We would reproduce something like Coordinated Universal Time so astronauts could follow a 24-hour cycle as they do on the International Space Station,” Mr. Ventura-Traveset told Wired. However, he added that it will be out of sync with the moon’s light and dark periods (due to its slow rotation, the moon faces away or towards the Sun for long periods of time), and that it wouldn’t be sensible to have a weeks-long “day” followed by a weeks-long “night.” 

The White House’s Celestial Time Standardization policy seeks to assign a time standard to each celestial body and its surrounding space environment, first focusing on the lunar surface and missions operating in cislunar space. It outlines the four features such a time standard must possess:

  1. Traceability to UTC: Lunar Time is analogous to Terrestrial Time on Earth (TAI+ 32.184 seconds). Similar to Terrestrial Time, Lunar Time may be set through an ensemble of clocks on the moon. This time standard, i.e., LTC may directly employ or distribute the UTC offsets required to maintain both local time and UTC time within tolerance limits.
  2. Scalability beyond the Earth-Moon system: Conversion of LTC to UTC for operations involving interactions with Earth will be possible by using the above approach to set the LTC. This approach is also extensible to space environments beyond the Earth-Moon system (for example, for Mars).
  3. Accuracy for precision navigation and science: The LTC will give users in cislunar space a reference time standard near the gravitational environment in which they operate. Space assets can synchronise with each other with precision for navigation.
  4. Resilience to loss of contact with Earth: The reference time – LTC – must survive independently when contact to Earth is lost.

Unlike Earth, the moon will have only one time zone and daylight saving will be unnecessary, the Smithsonian magazine estimates.

Why is LTC needed?

Previous moon missions involved astronauts visiting the lunar surface, completing their work and flying home. However, with space agencies across the world aiming to establish a permanent human presence on the moon, LTC is required, Mr. Ventura-Traveset said. “Up to now, when you have a mission on the moon, you would always synchronise with a time zone on Earth. But now we will have many missions in the future, and having a common reference time is really needed,” he said.

Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt is photographed working beside a huge boulder at Station 6 (base of North Massif) on the moon during the Apollo 17 expedition in 1972

Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt is photographed working beside a huge boulder at Station 6 (base of North Massif) on the moon during the Apollo 17 expedition in 1972

According The Scientific American, the pressing need for LTC is due to the plan to create a dedicated global satellite navigation system (GNSS) for the moon by 2030. This system will function similar to how the Global positioning system (GPS) and other navigation networks work on Earth.

Moon missions of various agencies will need an official lunar time to communicate with Earth-based stations and each other. “All this has to trace to one kind of a time reference, otherwise you have chaos and things do not work together,” ESA engineer Jörg Hahn said to The Scientific American.

Commercial operations on lunar surface involving transactions and logistics will be more reliable with the LTC, the OSTP says.

Issues in defining and implementing LTC

The process of defining lunar time is complicated by the effect of the moon’s gravitational pull. As per special relativity theory, due to the weaker gravitational pull of the moon, a clock on the moon would run faster than one on Earth, explains Patrizia Tavella, Head of Time department at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France, in an interview with The Scientific American. “A clock’s speed would also change depending on its position on the lunar surface, because of the moon’s rotation,” she adds.

NASA aerospace engineer Cheryl Gramling estimates that any clock on the moon would gain 56 microseconds over 24 hours. Per an estimate by The Scientific American, at least three master clocks which tick at the moon’s natural pace must be installed. The output of these three clocks coupled with an algorithm is expected to generate a more accurate time standard.

“Most importantly, lunar time will have to be practical for astronauts there (ISS),” ESA’s strategic planning head Bernhard Hufenbach said to the Smithsonian magazine. Each lunar day lasts as long as 29.5 Earth days. With the Artemis Programme aiming for a lunar landing as early as 2026, it needs to consider how to adapt to this challenge for a long-duration stay.

“But having established a working time system for the moon, we can go on to do the same for other planetary destinations,” said Mr. Hufenbach, alluding to setting time standards for other nearby celestial bodies like Mars.

In November 2022, the need for a unified lunar time was voiced globally by space agencies and academic organizations at an ESA meeting in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Most participants agreed on “a common lunar reference time,” but debated if a single organisation should set and maintain time on the moon.

New Delhi, Aug 31 : Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) releases an image of Chandrayaan-3 Vikram Lander clicked around 11 a.m. IST from about 15 m through a Pragyan rover’s navigation camera, hours after the release of its first image, which shows the lander resting on the moon’s surface

New Delhi, Aug 31 : Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) releases an image of Chandrayaan-3 Vikram Lander clicked around 11 a.m. IST from about 15 m through a Pragyan rover’s navigation camera, hours after the release of its first image, which shows the lander resting on the moon’s surface
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Apart from the US, several countries have lunar ambitions. China has stated that it will put its astronauts on the moon by 2030, while India plans to land in 2040. In January, Japan became the fifth country to land a spacecraft on the moon, after US, Russia, India and China. However, India is the only one to land a spacecraft near the lunar south pole.

“U.S. leadership in defining a suitable standard will benefit all spacefaring nations,” the OSTP stated. Getting consensus on LCT should be easier for the U.S due to the involvement of the Artemis Accord nations. However, two of its biggest space rivals – China and Russia – have not signed the accords, posing hurdles.

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Meet The Iranian-Born Billionaire Helping NASA Get Back To The Moon

Kam Ghaffarian isn’t a household name. But unlike Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who made fortunes elsewhere first, Ghaffarian actually got rich by shooting for the stars. His long-term plan? The first for-profit space station, opening by 2031.

By Giacomo Tognini, Forbes Staff

Less than 24 hours before jetting off to the Middle East and South Korea to meet investors, Kamal Ghaffarian has found a couple of hours in his schedule. Taking off his jacket, he settles into a chair in his office, a nondescript, four-story building in suburban Maryland. He asks: “Did you hear people call me ‘crazy Kam’?”

It’s a fair question. The list of companies Ghaffarian has founded reads like the pages of a science fiction novel: Axiom Space is building the world’s first commercial space station in partnership with NASA and also designed the next generation of astronaut spacesuits. (“The next time you see astronauts walking on the surface of the moon, they will be wearing Axiom Space spacesuits,” he adds.) Intuitive Machines builds lunar landers and will send one to the moon’s south pole in January (weather permitting), one of several launches it is planning that will open the moon up to commercial missions. Quantum Space is creating a space “superhighway” that will help spacecraft refuel and travel in the region between the Earth and the moon. And back down on this planet, X-Energy is making small, advanced (and meltdown-proof) nuclear reactors that can power everything from a remote military base to Dow’s 4,700-acre chemicals plant on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Crazy, indeed. But all the businesses have a common goal, according to Ghaffarian. “We need to be a multi-planetary species and also be able to go to other stars. But until then, we only have one home, right?” he says, adding, with a chuckle: “If you sort of summarize everything, [we need to] take care of our existing home and find a new home.”

The space industry is dominated by larger-than-life moguls who have poured money into rockets, rovers and rides into orbit. But, unlike Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, Ghaffarian, 65, is a rare example of someone who is a billionaire largely because of his space pursuits, rather than one who got into it after making his fortune. The key to that success? Culture, culture, culture, he says. But in a $546 billion business that’s still driven by the U.S. government, according to the nonprofit Space Foundation, it’s actually contracts, contracts, contracts.

“No one is better than Kam Ghaffarian at winning, on a competitive basis, dollars from the U.S. government,” adds J. Clay Sell, the CEO of X-Energy and a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Uncle Sam isn’t the only game in town, of course. Ghaffarian already has a laundry list of commercial clients, including the Cedars-Sinai health system (for stem cell research in microgravity), champagne producer G.H. Mumm (bubbly designed to be tasted in space) and Japanese conglomerate Mitsui, which also has a partnership with Axiom Space. Then there’s foreign governments, such as Canada and Saudi Arabia, plus individuals who will pay to access space: the firm already completed two successful, all-private crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) with Musk’s SpaceX in April 2022 and last May, with the first featuring three commercial astronauts and the second hosting two Saudi astronauts. As of August, the company claimed to have secured more than $2.2 billion in customer contracts.

That track record has helped him win over investors. In August, Axiom Space raised an additional $350 million in a funding round led by Saudi Arabia’s Aljazira Capital and South Korean pharma outfit Boryung; the firm is valued at $2.1 billion, according to filings from another backer, ARK Invest. That same month, Intuitive Machines—which listed on Nasdaq through a blank check firm in February—closed on a $20 million private investment, shoring up its finances after a rocky debut as a public company. X-Energy, which counts Dow and private equity outfit Ares Management as investors, was valued at roughly $1.1 billion in September. The newest, and smallest, part of his fortune is Quantum Space, which raised $15 million in December. Altogether, Forbes estimates Ghaffarian is worth $2.2 billion, thanks mostly to his stakes in his space and nuclear startups. Not bad for an Iranian immigrant who landed in Washington, D.C. in 1976 with a $2,000 loan from his uncle to attend college.

“People think of Bezos, Musk, Branson and rightly so,” explains Chris Stott, the founder and CEO of Lonestar Data Holdings, which is partnering with Intuitive Machines to store data on the lunar surface. “They should also tack Kam Ghaffarian onto that list because he’s doing as much, and he’s been quite smart because he’s leveraging everything Jeff and Elon are doing.”

Ghaffarian may be an asteroid in a big galaxy compared to the likes of Musk and Bezos, who are deploying billions of dollars. But he sees those magnates not as competition so much as partners: “I have a great deal of respect for Elon and [SpaceX president] Gwynne Shotwell, they’re awesome friends. Jeff Bezos, the same,” he says.

Like these other better-known space entrepreneurs, Ghaffarian has much bolder plans. The immediate goal of building the first ever commercial space station and the lunar landers is to lower the costs of entry into space, much in the same way that SpaceX’s reusable rockets made it cheaper, easier and faster to launch missions. Think of a Tom Cruise flick shot on an actual space station or drug development in zero gravity—both of which Ghaffarian’s companies are helping turn into reality.

No one is better than Kam Ghaffarian at winning, on a competitive basis, dollars from the U.S. government.

But that’s just the start. Longer term, he says: “Our ultimate destiny is for the human race to become interstellar.”

The first step is low Earth orbit, meaning the space station. Then the moon, with landers and a human outpost. And then? “Technologies that can go beyond our solar system.”

Ghaffarian’s out-of-this-world dreams date back to his childhood in the ancient city of Isfahan, Iran, where he loved to gaze at the stars. On the night of July 20, 1969, the then-11-year-old huddled around the black-and-white TV in his neighbor’s home and watched as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to walk on the moon. “It was really a transformational moment,” he recalls. “That really triggered for me that this is what I wanted to do.”

The last American mission to the moon was in 1972. Four years later, Ghaffarian flew to Washington D.C. to study at the Catholic University of America with a $2,000 loan from his uncle. At night, he would park cars in downtown D.C. to repay that debt while finishing a double degree in computer science and engineering. Ghaffarian graduated in 1980—one year after the Iranian revolution—and never looked back.

His first job out of college was at Virginia-based IT firm Compucare, all while continuing his studies with a degree in electronics engineering and a master’s in information management. Ghaffarian’s first foray in the space industry came in 1983 when he got a gig at aerospace giant Lockheed, later moving onto Ford Aerospace, where he continued to work on contracts for NASA and the federal government. Then, in 1994, he struck out on his own with Harold Stinger, whom he’d met at Lockheed. The pair founded a company called Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies with the help of a federal program that helps minority-owned businesses. Their first office was in Ghaffarian’s basement.

“We decided to open our own company doing the same thing, basically the government contracting business,” he says. “I mortgaged a house and got $250,000 that I put together, and that’s how we got started.”

By 2006, SGT had become the 20th largest contractor for NASA with $100 million in contracts to provide engineering services and mission support. Three years later, he bought out Stinger’s stake. “He has a skill set for government contracting,” says Chris Quilty, the founder and co-CEO of space market research firm Quilty Space. “And since this is intrinsically a government market, that is a very important skill set to have.”

Another skill: his ability to coax NASA veterans to join him in the private sector. Ghaffarian’s companies are stacked with at least 18 ex-NASA rockstars, bringing a wealth of government experience but also convincing investors that they can succeed in an increasingly crowded market. In 2013, he teamed up with Stephen Altemus—the former deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which led the Apollo landings on the moon—to launch Intuitive Machines. Three years later, he convinced Michael Suffredini, who managed NASA’s International Space Station program for a decade, to join him in founding Axiom Space.

“I called him and said, ‘Kam, the only thing I know how to do is build and operate a space station,’” Suffredini says of a phone call he had with Ghaffarian soon after leaving NASA. “He said, ‘okay, let me think about that.’ He called back the next day and said, ‘let’s go build a space station.’”

“It’s the most important component and it clearly is a competitive advantage,” says Kurt Scherer, managing partner at Washington, D.C.-based investment firm C5 Capital, which invested in both Axiom Space and his nuclear reactor firm X-Energy, which Ghaffarian founded in 2009.

Ghaffarian’s track record of winning contracts from NASA—he claims that SGT had a win ratio of 80%, compared to an industry average below 50%—helped Axiom Space and Intuitive Machines clinch major bids, from the spacesuits to the commercial lunar program. “This ability to bid on contracts and succeed is our secret sauce,” he adds. Even X-Energy is active in space: Last year, a joint venture with his Intuitive Machines won a $5 million contract from NASA and the Department of Energy to design a portable nuclear reactor for the lunar surface.

All of these projects require investment. That’s why Ghaffarian sold SGT in 2018 to publicly traded KBR for $355 million, giving him the cash to push his other ventures forward. “There are times that I think maybe I shouldn’t have sold, because SGT was an incredible cash flow business. But these are technology companies,” he says, pointing to Axiom Space, Intuitive Machines and X-Energy. “You’ve got to pour a lot of money into them.”

Seed funding only goes so far in space, and Ghaffarian managed to sway deep-pocketed investors to commit the funds needed to get those businesses off the ground. “Kam is one of the very few people who has the ability to see a big, bold, ambitious future and is able to get a lot of people to believe in that vision,” says Dakin Sloss, the founder and general partner of Jackson, Wyoming-based VC firm Prime Movers Lab, which has invested in both Axiom Space and Quantum Space.

Public markets haven’t been as kind as private backers. X-Energy terminated its SPAC merger with Ares Acquisition Corp. in October, a month after revising its valuation downwards by 42%. Intuitive Machines’ stock has fallen 70% since its stock market debut, as investors priced in delays to the firm’s first lunar launch. Initially scheduled for November—which would have made Ghaffarian the first to bring America back to the moon since 1972—it was pushed back to January due to “pad congestion” at Cape Canaveral. (Another U.S. company, Astrobotic, has its own lander that’s expected to launch on Christmas Eve, potentially beating Ghaffarian to the punch.)

And the competition is fierce across the board: In the nuclear industry, Bill Gates’ TerraPower, which is making a pilot reactor larger than X-Energy’s, also won a Department of Energy contract at the same time as Ghaffarian’s firm in 2020. In the realm of space stations, Axiom Space will also have to contend with Bezos’ Blue Origin and Sierra Space—founded by billionaire couple Eren and Fatih Ozmen—plus industry titans Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, which are partnering with Denver-based Voyager Space, and other startups including crypto billionaire Jed McCaleb’s Vast. And besides Astrobotic and Blue Origin, Japanese startup iSpace is planning a second mission to the moon in 2024 after its first lander crashed into the lunar surface last April due to a software glitch.

Ghaffarian isn’t worried, envisioning a future where there’s more than enough business to go around for multiple small nuclear reactors, space stations and firms ferrying payloads to the moon. “Competition is healthy. It makes you more creative and innovative,” he says. His investors agree: “We want to encourage competitors because this is going to be a growing market,” adds C5 Capital’s Scherer.

The most ambitious Ghaffarian project is the Limitless Space Institute, a nonprofit that he says he came up with when he was at home meditating and thinking about the universe. (“What drives me is my spirituality and trusting God,” he says.) Based in Houston, the institute—also led by NASA veterans—partners with schools and universities and funds research into technologies that could one day enable interstellar travel, ranging from fusion-powered spacecraft (theoretically possible, but far from being a reality) to “space drives, wormholes and space warps” (still entirely conceptual).

Ghaffarian likely won’t be around if any of those happen. But he does envision a near-term future where humans live full-time on a space station and the moon. The next step in that vision is the Intuitive Machines launch to the moon in January. Then comes Axiom Space’s next astronaut mission, also scheduled for early next year. The first section of the new space station is expected to attach to the ISS in 2026—Axiom Space is the only company that can connect its modules there—with the whole structure up and running by 2031, when the ISS will be retired.

“When you talk about 10, 15, 20 years from now, my hope is that we have a space city, a place where people can actually go and live,” he says. “That would be a really nice building block toward further space exploration for human beings.”

To Ghaffarian, the motivation for building a space station and lunar landers was never just to get rich—even though his investments in them have helped make him very wealthy.

“I didn’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery and I didn’t want my life to be just about making more money,” he says, reflecting on when he sold his first business. “I wanted my life to be more about making a difference, changing the world for the better.”


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The state of the planet in 10 numbers

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM.

The COP28 climate summit comes at a critical moment for the planet. 

A summer that toppled heat records left a trail of disasters around the globe. The world may be just six years away from breaching the Paris Agreement’s temperature target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, setting the stage for much worse calamities to come. And governments are cutting their greenhouse gas pollution far too slowly to head off the problem — and haven’t coughed up the billions of dollars they promised to help poorer countries cope with the damage.

This year’s summit, which starts on Nov. 30 in Dubai, will conclude the first assessment of what countries have achieved since signing the Paris accord in 2015. 

The forgone conclusion: They’ve made some progress. But not enough. The real question is what they do in response.

To help understand the stakes, here’s a snapshot of the state of the planet — and global climate efforts — in 10 numbers. 

1.3 degrees Celsius

Global warming since the preindustrial era  

Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been driving global temperatures skyward since the 19th century, when the industrial revolution and the mass burning of fossil fuels began to affect the Earth’s climate. The world has already warmed by about 1.3 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of that warming has occurred since the 1970s. In the last 50 years, research suggests, global temperatures have risen at their fastest rate in at least 2,000 years.  

This past October concluded the Earth’s hottest 12-month span on record, a recent analysis found. And 2023 is virtually certain to be the hottest calendar year ever observed. It’s continuing a string of recent record-breakers — the world’s five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2015. 

Allowing warming to pass 2 degrees Celsius would tip the world into catastrophic changes, scientists have warned, including life-threatening heat extremes, worsening storms and wildfires, crop failures, accelerating sea level rise and existential threats to some coastal communities and small island nations. Eight years ago in Paris, nearly every nation on Earth agreed to strive to keep temperatures well below that threshold, and under a more ambitious 1.5-degree threshold if at all possible. 

But with just fractions of a degree to go, that target is swiftly approaching — and many experts say it’s already all but out of reach.

$4.3 trillion  

Global economic losses from climate disasters since 1970  

Climate-related disasters are worsening as temperatures rise. Heat waves are intensifying, tropical cyclones are strengthening, floods and droughts are growing more severe and wildfires are blazing bigger. Record-setting events struck all over the planet this year, a harbinger of new extremes to come. Scientists say such events will only accelerate as the world warms. 

Nearly 12,000 weather, climate and water-related disasters struck worldwide over the last five decades, the World Meteorological Organization reports. They’ve caused trillions of dollars in damage, and they’ve killed more than 2 million people.  

Ninety percent of these deaths have occurred in developing countries. Compared with wealthier nations, these countries have historically contributed little to the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming – yet they disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate change.  

4.4 millimeters  

Annual rate of sea level rise

Global sea levels are rapidly rising as the ice sheets melt and the oceans warm and expand. Scientists estimate that they’re now rising by about 4.4 millimeters, or about 0.17 inches, each year – and that rate is accelerating, increasing by about 1 millimeter every decade.

Those sound like small numbers. They’re not.  

The world’s ice sheets and glaciers are losing a whopping 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year. Those losses are also speeding up, accelerating by at least 57 percent since the 1990s. Future sea level rise mainly depends on future ice melt, which depends on future greenhouse gas emissions. With extreme warming, global sea levels will likely rise as much as 3 feet by the end of this century, enough to swamp many coastal communities, threaten freshwater supplies and submerge some small island nations.  

Some places are more vulnerable than others. 

“Low-lying islands in the Pacific are on the frontlines of the fight against sea level rise,” said NASA sea level expert Benjamin Hamlington. “In the U.S., the Southeast and Gulf Coasts are experiencing some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the world and have very high future projections of sea level.”  

But in the long run, he added, “almost every coastline around the world is going to experience sea level rise and will feel impacts.”

Less than 6 years

When the world could breach the 1.5-degree threshold

The world is swiftly running out of time to meet its most ambitious international climate target: keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Humans can emit only another 250 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and maintain at least even odds of meeting that goal, scientists say. 

That pollution threshold could arrive in as little as six years.

That’s the bottom line from at least two recent studies, one published in June and one in October. Humans are pouring about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, with each ton eating into the margin of error.  

The size of that carbon buffer is smaller than previous estimates have suggested, indicating that time is running out even faster than expected.  

“While our research shows it is still physically possible for the world to remain below 1.5C, it’s difficult to see how that will stay the case for long,” said Robin Lamboll, a scientist at Imperial College London and lead author of the most recent study. “Unfortunately, net-zero dates for this target are rapidly approaching, without any sign that we are meeting them.”

43 percent 

How much greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 2030 to hit the temperature target

The world would have to undergo a stark transformation during this decade to have any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement’s ambitious 1.5-degree cap. 

In a nutshell, global greenhouse gas emissions have to fall 43 percent by 2030, and 60 percent by 2035, before reaching net-zero by mid-century, according to a U.N. report published in September on the progress the world has made since signing the Paris Agreement. That would give the world a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. 

But based on the climate pledges that countries have made to date, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to fall by just 2 percent this decade, according to a U.N. assessment published this month

Governments are “taking baby steps to avert the climate crisis,” U.N. climate chief Simon Stiell said in a statement this month. “This means COP28 must be a clear turning point.” 

$1 trillion a year 

Climate funding needs of developing countries

In many ways, U.N. climate summits are all about finance. Cutting industries’ carbon pollution, protecting communities from extreme weather, rebuilding after climate disasters — it all costs money. And developing countries, in particular, don’t have enough of it. 

As financing needs grow, pressure is mounting on richer nations such as the U.S. that have produced the bulk of planet-warming emissions to help developing countries cut their own pollution and adapt to a warmer world. They also face growing calls to pay for the destruction wrought by climate change, known as loss and damage in U.N.-speak. 

But the flow of money from rich to poor countries has slowed. In October, a pledging conference to replenish the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund raised only $9.3 billion, even less than the $10 billion that countries had promised last time. An overdue promise by developed countries to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to rising temperatures was “likely” met last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said this month, while warning that adaptation finance had fallen by 14 percent in 2021. 

As a result, the gap between what developing countries need and how much money is flowing in their direction is growing. The OECD report said developing countries will need around $1 trillion a year for climate investments by 2025, “rising to roughly $2.4 trillion each year between 2026 and 2030.”

$7 trillion 

Worldwide fossil fuel subsidies in 2022

In stark contrast to the trickle of climate finance, fossil fuel subsidies have surged in recent years. In 2022, total spending on subsidies for oil, natural gas and coal reached a record $7 trillion, the International Monetary Fund said in August. That’s $2 trillion more than in 2020. 

Explicit subsidies — direct government support to reduce energy prices — more than doubled since 2020, to $1.3 trillion. But the majority of subsidies are implicit, representing the fact that governments don’t require fossil fuel companies to pay for the health and environmental damage that their products inflict on society. 

At the same time, countries continue pumping public and private money into fossil fuel production. This month, a U.N. report found that governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the 1.5-degree target. 

66,000 square kilometers

Gross deforestation worldwide in 2022

At the COP26 climate summit two years ago in Glasgow, Scotland, nations committed to halting global deforestation by 2030. A total of 145 countries have signed the Glasgow Forest Declaration, representing more than 90 percent of global forest cover. 

Yet global action is still falling short of that target. The annual Forest Declaration Assessment, produced by a collection of research and civil society organizations, estimated that the world lost 66,000 square kilometers of forest last year, or about 25,000 square miles — a swath of territory slightly larger than West Virginia or Lithuania. Most of that loss came from tropical forests. 

Halting deforestation is a critical component of global climate action. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that collective contributions from agriculture, forestry and land use compose as much as 21 percent of global human-caused carbon emissions. Deforestation releases large volumes of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, and recent research suggests that carbon losses from tropical forests may have doubled since the early 2000s.  

Almost 1 billion tons

The annual carbon dioxide removal gap 

Given the world’s slow pace in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, scientists say a second approach is essential for slowing the Earth’s warming — removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The technology for doing this is largely untested at scale, and won’t be cheap.  

A landmark report on carbon dioxide removals led by the University of Oxford earlier this year found that keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less would require countries to collectively remove an additional 0.96 billion tons of CO2-equivalent a year by 2030.

About 2 billion tons are now removed every year, but that is largely achieved through the natural absorption capacity of forests. 

Removing even more carbon will require countries to massively scale up carbon removal technologies, given the limited capacity of forests to absorb more carbon dioxide. 

Carbon removal technologies are in the spotlight at COP28, though some countries and companies want to use them to meet net-zero while continuing to burn fossil fuels. Scientists have been clear that carbon removal cannot be a substitute for steep emissions cuts. 

1,000 gigawatts 

Annual growth in renewable power capacity needed to keep 1.5 degrees in reach  

The shift from fossil fuels to renewables is underway, but the transition is still far too slow to meet the Paris Agreement targets. 

To keep 1.5 degrees within reach, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that the world needs to add 1,000 gigawatts in renewable energy capacity every year through 2030. By comparison, the United States’ entire utility-scale electricity-generation capacity was about 1,160 gigawatts last year, according to the Department of Energy.

Last year, countries added about 300 gigawatts, according to the agency’s latest World Energy Transitions Outlook published in June. 

That shortfall has prompted the EU and the climate summit’s host nation, the United Arab Emirates, to campaign for nations to sign up to a target to triple the world’s renewable capacity by 2030 at COP28, a goal also supported by the U.S. and China.

“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable,” International Energy Agency boss Fatih Birol said last month. “It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us.”

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM. The article is produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.

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Explained | Artemis Accords – India-US space collaboration; How will it affect ISRO’s mission?

‘Even the sky is not the limit,’ declared Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 25, Thursday, while announcing that India has decided to join the Artemis Accords, marking a leap in Indo-US space cooperation.

“By taking the decision to join the Artemis Accords, we have taken a big leap forward in our space cooperation,” said Mr. Modi at a news conference at the White House with US President Joe Biden. India joins 26 other countries who have signed the non-binding treaty for space exploration of the moon, Mars and beyond.

As per the joint statement released by the White House, the two nations’ space agencies — National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) — will jointly send Indian astronauts, trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024. The statement also mentions India’s signing of the Artemis Accords to advance a common vision of space exploration for the benefit of all humankind.

What are the Artemis Accords?

Based on the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (OST), the Artemis Accords were established by the U.S. State Department and NASA with seven other founding members — Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom— in 2020 for setting common principles to govern civil exploration and use of outer space, the moon, Mars, comets, and asteroids, for peaceful purposes.

The 27 signatories to the Artemis Accords are the US, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K,. Ukraine, South Korea, New Zealand, Brazil, Poland, Mexico, Israel, Romania, Bahrain, Singapore, Colombia, France, Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, Nigeria, Czech Republic, Spain, Ecuador, and now, India.

Commitments under the Accords

Under the Artemis Accords, the signatories will implement memorandum of understanding (MOUs) between governments or agencies to conduct space activities for peaceful purposes in accordance with international law. They are committed to share national space policies transparently with one another and scientific information resulting from their activities with the public and the international scientific community on a good-faith basis.

The signatories recognise common exploration infrastructure including fuel storage and delivery systems, landing structures, communications systems, and power systems to enhance scientific discovery and commercial utilisation. The members will have to render necessary assistance to personnel in outer space who are in distress.

All relevant space objects must be registered by the signatories and they must openly share scientific data in a timely fashion. Private sectors are exempted from sharing scientific data unless they are performing space activities on behalf of a signatory. The members are expected to preserve outer space heritage, including historic human or robotic landing sites, artefacts and evidence of activity on celestial bodies.

The utilisation of space resources, including recoveries from the surface of the moon, Mars, comets, or asteroid should be done in support of safe and sustainable space activities. The usage of such resources by a signatory must not interfere with that of another signatory and information regarding the location and nature of space-based activities must be shared to avoid this. Signatories must notify and coordinate with one another to create a ‘safety zone’ to avoid any such interference.

Members must plan for mitigation of orbital debri, including safe and timely disposal of spacecraft at the end of missions. They must also limit the generation of new, long-lived harmful debris to a minimum.

The principles under these Accords must be periodically reviewed and potential areas of future cooperation must be discussed.

What are the activities under Artemis programme?

The initial three missions of the programme are Artemis-I, II and III.

Under Artemis-I, NASA launched its spacecraft ‘Orion’ on its indigenously built super heavy-lift launch vehicle (SLS) directly to the moon on a single mission. On November 16, 2022, the SLS carrying Orion commenced its first uncrewed integrated flight test from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The Orion completed a lunar flyby, performing a half revolution around the moon before returning to the earth’s orbit and splashing down on December 11, 2022, in the Pacific Ocean.

In 2024, NASA’s Artemis-2 programme will commence, with a crew of four astronauts onboard the SLS performing multiple manoeuvres on an expanding orbit around the Earth on the Orion, conducting a lunar flyby and returning to the earth. The crew will perform tests on systems like communication, life support, and navigation and perform a proximity operations demonstration which will help in docking and undocking for Artemis-III.

ASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Hammock Koch, and CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen are the four astronauts who will venture around the Moon on Artemis II

ASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Hammock Koch, and CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen are the four astronauts who will venture around the Moon on Artemis II
| Photo Credit:

The four member crew finalised by NASA are Reid Wiseman (commander) from Canada, Victor Glover (pilot), Christina Hammock Koch (mission specialist) and Jeremy Hansen (mission specialist) from the US. The mission will create history by sending the first woman and person of colour to land on the moon. Currently, the crew is undergoing training while different modules of Orion are undergoing tests.

Under Artemis-III, humans will return to the moon in 2025. This mission will witness the four-member crew land on the moon, conduct a week-long lunar exploration, perform a lunar flyby, and return to earth.

Gateway - An orbital outpost around the Moon that provides vital support for a sustainable, long-term human return to the lunar surface

Gateway – An orbital outpost around the Moon that provides vital support for a sustainable, long-term human return to the lunar surface

In future missions under the Artemis programme, NASA aims to land a second crew on the moon in 2028 and establish a Lunar Gateway station where astronauts will land in 2029. NASA also aims to set up a permanent base on the lunar surface and then proceed to send astronauts to Mars.

India’s space/moon mission & role in Artemis

India’s space agency ISRO already had two programmes — Chandrayaan and Gaganyaan — before the country signed the Artemis Accords. Under Gaganyaan, ISRO will demonstrate its capability for human spaceflight to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and a safe return to the earth. The mission has two unmanned flights and one manned flight planned to the ISS.

ISRO tests recovery procedures for the Gaganyaan astronaut mission targeted to launch in 2024

ISRO tests recovery procedures for the Gaganyaan astronaut mission targeted to launch in 2024

While the first unmanned mission was to be launched in 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the schedule by a year. Now, the first unmanned flight will happen at the beginning of next year and the crewed mission is projected to be done by the end of 2024. The four astronauts selected for the mission completed their generic space flight training at Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, Russia, and since then have been in India undergoing tests and physical training. They will be sent for final training to the Kennedy Space Centre, US, in 2024.

India’s second attempt to ‘soft land’ on the moon — Chandrayaan-3 — is set to launch in mid-July this year. ISRO chief S. Somnath said that the Chandrayaan-3 vessel has been moved from U.R. Rao Satellite Centre in Bengaluru to Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. The initial operation checks of the satellites, launch vehicle, orbiter, lander and rover are ongoing. Similar to Chandrayaan-2, India will attempt to launch an orbiter to the lunar orbit and land a rover on the south pole of the lunar surface.

Image of Chandrayaan-2 rocket lift-off

Image of Chandrayaan-2 rocket lift-off

With India signing the Artemis Accords, it will be a part of the US’ attempt to land humans on the moon by 2025. Moreover, ISRO is likely to collaborate on further Artemis missions including the Lunar Gateway, Mars landing and establishing a permanent lunar base. India also aims to establish its own space station similar to the ISS and China’s Tiangong space station.

Hailing India’s decision to sign the Artemis Accords, Ashok GV, Director, Legal Affairs of Spaceport Sarabhai, an Indian space think tank, said that it could provide a foundation for more streamlined and liberal exchange of technology and a flow of capital for India’s space program. “It provides impetus to India’s aspirations to be a key influencer in humankind’s efforts to mark its presence in the moon and beyond,” he said.

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Sleeping will be one of the challenges for astronauts on Mars missions | CNN

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Astronauts have been adjusting to the challenges of sleeping in space for years — and the lessons learned from their zero gravity slumbers will ensure that one day the first crewed missions to Mars will have gotten enough rest before exploring the red planet.

Rotating crews have spent an average of six months living and working aboard the International Space Station for nearly 23 years, and they struggle with sleep issues just like people on Earth. Some of the challenges are similar to those of shift workers or people with abnormal schedules, but others are more unique to the space environment.

NASA astronaut Josh Cassada is bundled up in his crew quarters on the International Space Station on March 2.

For example, most people don’t have to worry about floating away from their beds due to zero gravity. Don’t worry — astronauts use special restraints to keep them from floating through the space station while asleep.

Two of the biggest challenges for astronauts include their sleep environment and the establishment of a natural sleep cycle.

Astronauts have dark, quiet and private crew quarters on the space station conducive to good sleep — but that won’t always be the case on other space missions, said Dr. Erin Flynn-Evans, director of the Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

Like their historic Apollo predecessors, the Orion capsules that will be used during future Artemis missions to the moon are small vehicles with limited space for crews and sleeping bags for rest periods.

“I think of it like camping,” Flynn-Evans said. “If it’s for a couple days, probably no big deal. But the longer you’re in close quarters with someone, the more disruptive that can be.”

While the space station affords incredible views of Earth, the 16 sunrises an astronaut witnesses a day can wreak havoc on circadian rhythm, the body’s natural clock for sleeping and waking.

On Earth, disruptions to circadian rhythm occur for people who work overnight shifts or experience jet lag while traveling across time zones.

“Light is what resets our circadian rhythm and keeps us organized to that day-night cycle, but in space we have several challenges,” Flynn-Evans said.

The space station orbits around Earth every 90 minutes, creating alternating cycles of darkness and light. Rather than force the astronauts to adapt to such a strange cycle, experts at NASA have added lighting to the interior of the space station that mimics what people experience during a normal day on Earth.

“We have to try to block out the light from windows during the night,” she said, “and we have to really try to maximize the light either through windows or with internal lighting to make sure the crew are getting that synchronizing stimulus so that they’re able to stay awake and asleep at the right time.”

Jet lag begins before astronauts ever arrive at the space station, and their sleep schedules are shifted for days before liftoff based on the time of day and time zone from which they will launch. Once they reach the space station, each astronaut is shifted to Greenwich Mean Time, “a nice middle ground between all of the countries that participate,” Flynn-Evans said.

At the Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory, Flynn-Evans and her colleagues develop tools to help astronauts overcome sleep challenges. Some of the strategies involve managing when the astronauts are exposed to blue light, the primary synchronizing wavelength for the circadian system, and when to reduce blue light to help them sleep.

Astronauts have regimented schedules, but the arrival of resupply missions or new crews sometimes interrupt those. Flynn-Evans and other researchers develop approaches to shifting sleep safely for the astronauts, such as determining when to take naps or stay up later to accommodate schedule changes.

The same tips that help astronauts sleep also apply on Earth, including following a regular schedule with waking and falling asleep at the same time as much as possible and limiting exposure to blue light before going to bed, which is emitted by LED TVs, smartphones, computers and tablets.

Although scientists have sleep data from years of spaceflight, conducting simulated missions on Earth allow for more control.

“We do fake space missions all the time,” Flynn-Evans said. “We have what we call an analog space environment at Johnson Space Center called the Human Exploration Research Analog or HERA, and that’s basically a small habitat.”

The CHAPEA crew will live in a habitat with individual quarters at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The habitat mimics the size of a lunar base or small spacecraft and can house crews of four people for long periods of time. Flynn-Evans was involved in a study in which crews spent 45 days in the habitat and were restricted to five hours of sleep on weeknights and eight hours on weekends. The participants were tested for alertness and performance.

Findings from the experiment showed that if crew members only got five hours of sleep one night, they needed more opportunities to catch up on sleep on subsequent nights to prevent the ill effects of sleep deprivation. The current requirement is that crew members get 8½ hours of sleep per night on missions to avoid long-term sleep loss, fatigue-induced errors and health complications, according to NASA.

In June, NASA will begin the first experiment in a new 3D-printed Martian habitat at Johnson Space Center called the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog, or CHAPEA.

Over the course of one year, a four-person crew will live and work inside a 1,700-square-foot (158-square-meter) space to simulate living on Mars. The focus for the first experiment is nutrition, but Flynn-Evans and her fellow researchers will also monitor how well the crew sleeps.

Habitats such as HERA and CHAPEA allow scientists to simulate surprises that may happen on a real mission to the moon or Mars, such as limited resources, failing equipment, communication issues and other stressors of small habitats.

An unexpectedly rich source of sleep data has proven to be studying the Earth-bound scientists and engineers who work on Mars missions such as the Perseverance rover.

A day on Mars lasts about 39 minutes longer than one on Earth, but it’s just enough that the members of Mars mission control have to adjust their schedules constantly to stay on Perseverance’s timetable.

“If you’re shifting 39 minutes a day, that means that you’re basically going to bed 39 minutes later every day,” Flynn-Evans said. “It doesn’t seem that bad on a single night. But after five days, it’s like you’ve crossed like six time zones. It’s a real stressor on the body.”

Many unknowns still exist about being on “Mars time,” such as how the time shift affects the human body’s metabolism.

Understanding how people on Earth adapt to live on Mars time is one way of preparing for future missions to the red planet. Flynn-Evans and her team are working closely with those planning the Artemis lunar missions to optimize the astronauts’ schedules and ensure that the lighting is sufficient and the noise is dampened inside Orion when they need to sleep.

Researchers also want to study how much caffeine astronauts require for alertness to make sure crews don’t run out of coffee in a spacecraft with limited storage.

“Sleep is intimately tied with performance, alertness, interpersonal communication and relationships,” Flynn-Evans said, “so we want to make sure that the crews are set up for success and getting that sleep they need.”

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