Asgardia Space Nation is the idea of establishing a nation in space by a group of people, in which all citizens have free access to space, regardless of their race, religion, or education.
Our ancestors have inhabited Earth for more than 6 million years, although Homo sapiens, the species to which all modern human beings belong, has only been around for about 300,000 years.
Over these thousands of years, we humans have evolved both physically and behaviorally. With the passage of time, we became smarter, more informed, and more resilient. We developed languages to communicate, discovered tools to build empires, and came up with techniques to progress as a civilization. We manage to spread out and prosper in all the continents on Earth. From the bitterly cold areas near the poles to the hot and humid regions of the equator, we have survived the tests of time and weather. We basically have a presence almost everywhere on this planet.
However, with a 7.5-billion person population already, we are beginning to saturate the resources available on our planet. We are falling short of new avenues to explore and expand our presence on the planet. We need to look beyond Earth.
What if we could settle somewhere away from Earth, perhaps somewhere out in space? What if we built a nation in space where all citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, religion or education, could live peacefully?
Well, this may seem like a utopian dream, and far from practical viability, but there is a group who is striving to go against the odds to establish a nation of people in space—the Asgardia Space Nation.
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Asgardia Space Nation
An international group of engineers, astronomers, lawyers, and entrepreneurs are in pursuit of establishing a nation in space (yes, space!). Although a number of people are involved in the mission, the brainchild behind the idea of Asgardia Space Nation is Russian scientist-turned-entrepreneur Igor Raufovich Ashurbeyli.
The objective behind Asgardia Space Nation as per organizers, is to come up with a new legal framework for the peaceful exploration of space—free from the clutches of governmental control on Earth. Organizers of Asgardia have formally laid down three important goals:
- To ensure peaceful and equitable use of space
- To protect humans from space hazards
- To create a demilitarized scientific knowledge base in space that is free for all
Although these are goals formally laid down, the implicit aim of the whole initiative is to establish a human civilization in space as a nation, sometime in the distant future.
How did Asgardia Space Nation begin?
As mentioned earlier, this initiative is spearheaded by Russian scientist Igor Ashurbeyli. The foundations of Asgardia were led when Ashurbeyli kickstarted Asgardia Independent Research Centre (AIRC) in 2013. In 2014, AIRC started the publication of an international space magazine, ROOM. Ashurbeyli is editor in chief of this publication. In 2016, the idea of Asgardia Space Nation was first made public and people were invited to earn citizenship of this supposed “nation in space”. People who were granted membership are called Asgardians.
Asgardia citizenship: Who can become Asgardian?
At this time, there aren’t really stringent rules in place concerning who can become an Asgardian. One just needs to be over 18 years of age and should have an email address. Basically, any adult of any gender, race, religion, or financial standing can apply for citizenship. Even ex-convicts can apply, provided that they are clear of their charges at the time of application.
Within 48 hours of the Asgardia Space Nation project announcement, more than 100,000 people applied for citizenship on Asgardia’s website. So far, it has received applications from over 1.5 million people in 200 countries.
Asgardia’s space activity and future plans
After its launch in 2016, Asgardia marked its presence in space for the first time by launching the Asgardia-1 satellite from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in November 2017. Nanorock a private US aerospace company, is behind the development of the Asgardia-1 satellite.
Asgardia-1 is a nanosat the size of a loaf of bread. One of the aims of this space mission is to demonstrate the storage of data on a solid-state drive (SSD) in low-Earth orbit. The Asgard-1 satellite has a 512 GB SSD mostly containing family photographs sent by some 18,000 members of this project.
Some time in the future, Asgardia plans to settle a human colony in Earth’s orbit approximately 100-200 miles away from the Earth’s surface. This is likely to be achieved by setting up an International Space Station (ISS), which would cost billions of dollars, and therefore, at the moment, seems financially infeasible.
Problems with Asgardia
So far, we have been discussing how Asgardia came into being and what it has achieved so far. Apparently, this idea seems noble, but in reality, this initiative is fraught with many challenges.
Not approved by the UN
Though it claims to have a “nation in space”, neither the United Nations (UN) nor any other nation (on Earth, of course!) has approved Asgardia as a nation. Ashurbeyli claims his team is working closely with legal experts to put forth this idea to the United Nations Security Council and to get formal recognition for Asgardia.
However, according to Joanne Gabrynowicz, a space law expert (yes, that’s a thing!), “A state has to have these characteristics: a permanent population; a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. And it must be recognized as a state by other states”. This would be challenging, considering that Asgardia does not have any territory of its own, at least not on Earth.
Not in line with Outer Space Treaty (OST)
There is another big hurdle for Asgardia to overcome—the Outer Space Treaty (OST)—which is presently backed by 110 nations, including all major nations like the US, Russia, China, etc.
The OST prevents any country from claiming sovereignty in space, and also states that whenever a country or a company from that country sends a spaceship into space, the space mission becomes the onus of the country. So, for example, if a satellite sent by SpaceX or NASA crashes into a Russian satellite, Russia can hold the US government responsible and demand hefty compensation.
Asgardia-1, the first space mission launched by Asgardia, was conducted in collaboration with American companies and launched from NASA’s site. Thus, their mission technically came under the US jurisdiction and not under Asgardia independently.
Now, the only way left for Asgardia to circumvent OST restrictions is to partner with non-signatory nations to the OST. That is mostly composed of underdeveloped countries that do not have adequate infrastructure for launching space missions.
A final word
The idea of establishing a nation in space in which all citizens, regardless of race, religion, or education, would have free access to space is a promising and exciting idea. However, if one tries to figure out its technical, financial, and legal feasibility, the whole idea seems like a pipe dream. Perhaps Asgardia will somehow translate this utopian idea into reality in the future, but at present the nation exists only as a mini-satellite, no bigger than a loaf of bread!