- Asgardia/James Vaughan
- A non-governmental organization called Asgardia wants to become the first kingdom and nation in space.
- On Wednesday, the group deployed its first satellite into orbit around Earth.
- Asgardia claims the small satellite’s deployment means it is “the first nation to have all of its territory in space.”
- Decades of work may remain before Asgardia can become a country recognized by the United Nations.
The self-declared Space Kingdom of Asgardia, a nation founded by a Russian aerospace engineer and billionaire, just deployed its first satellite into orbit.
Asgardia is currently a non-profit non-governmental organization based out of Vienna, Austria. But its leaders want to eventually build a kingdom in space that mines asteroids and defends planet Earth from meteorites, space debris, and other threats.
“Asgardia will be a space nation that is a trans-ethnic, trans-national, trans-religious, ethical, peaceful entity trying to settle the humanity in space,” Ram Jakhu, the director of McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law and one of Asgardia’s founding members, said during a June press briefing.
- Asgardia; Lena De Winne/Twitter
Its new satellite is called Asgardia-1. The blocky object is technically called a nano satellite or “nanosat” – it weighs about as much as a newborn baby, is roughly the size of a bread loaf.
Asgardia‘s tiny spacecraft contains a 512-gigabyte hard drive loaded with “the nation’s constitution, national symbols, and the personally selected data of the Asgardian citizenship,” according to a statement emailed to Business Insider.
“Asgardia-1 has now been deployed in a low earth orbit,” the statement said, “making Asgardia the first nation to have all of its territory in space.”
Asgardia’s first satellite
The plan to launch the satellite was announced during a June press briefing, and is funded by Asgardia co-founder Igor Ashurbeyli, a Russian aerospace engineer and billionaire.
Asgardia worked with several companies to make its mission possible. NearSpace Launch helped design and build Asgardia-1, and aerospace company Orbital ATK launched the nanosat inside a Cygnus spacecraft bound for the International Space Station.
The Cygnus left the space station on Wednesday, rocketed to a higher altitude, and shot Asgardia-1 and two other nanosats into space with a spring-loaded cannon.
Asgardia-1 won’t do much more than orbit Earth from about 280 miles above the planet, though it stores data submitted by Asgardian citizens. There are currently about 154,000 citizens of Asgardia, and the first 100,000 to register were promised 500 kilobytes of space each for upload on the hard drive.
“Maybe the photo of your little cat or of your neighbor, of your mother, or a child… whatever comes to your mind, this will be for as long as Asgardia exists. In other words, forever,” Ashurbeyli said in June (500 kb is less than the data used by one frame of a typical DVD video).
All the files Asgardians uploaded are visible to fellow citizens, and the platform is accepting more. So far, nearly 14,000 Asgardians have contributed files, including poems, personal letters, songs, and photos of weddings, cats, dogs, birds, aliens, and even President Donald Trump shaking the hand of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.
Asgardia-1 will slowly fall toward Earth over the next five years and eventually burn up in the planet’s atmosphere. But Ashurbeyli said in June that the data uploaded will be copied to future Asgardian satellites, as well as spacecraft that go to “the moon and anywhere in the universe … Asgardia will be.”
The first space territory – and kingdom?
With the satellite successfully deployed into space, the nation will now turn to its parliamentary elections, which run through March 2018, according to Asgardia’s statement.
“Anyone who is 18 or older, and has accepted the Constitution of Asgardia, will automatically be assigned to an electoral district which represents their spoken language,” the statement said.
Asgardia has enough people who’ve applied for citizenship to qualify for consideration as a state by the United Nations (the minimum is 100,000). But experts say it’s unlikely the world will acknowledge Asgardia as a sovereign nation, even now that it technically has territory in space.
“A state in the classical sense has a territory and has a significant portion of its population living on that territory,” Frans von der Dunk, a space law expert, told Popular Science last year. “As long as nobody’s going into space, you can have as many signatures as you want, but you are not a state.”
Business Insider previously contacted the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) for clarification on whether current space laws would permit the existence of a space nation, but UNOOSA representatives did not answer our query.
Instead, they directed us to the text of five UN treaties that govern activities in outer space. Article II of the first and most important part of that legal framework, called the Outer Space Treaty, prohibits “national appropriation” of anything in outer space “by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
But von der Dunk doesn’t think this would necessarily prohibit the eventual formation of a country or state.
“This may be the germ that 50 years from now will create a true nation in outer space,” von der Dunk told Popular Science.
How to build a nation in space
- Asgardia/James Vaughan
For now, Asgardia’s proclaimed territory – i.e. Asgardia-1 – is actually bound by US law, since American companies launched it from US soil aboard a primarily NASA-funded mission.
But Asgardia’s founders eventually want to put people on a kind of space station.
“We’ll start small and eventually people will be going there, and working, and having their own rules and regulations … This facility will become an independent nation,” Jakhu previously told Business Insider.
No public details exist yet as to what an early colony might look like, how big it will be, or what expense it’d incur. However, building space stations of any size or kind and putting people on them is a very, very expensive proposition. The football-field-sized ISS, for example, took 18 nations and more than $100 billion to build. Meanwhile, the cheapest ride to orbit today is SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which costs between about $43 million and $65 million per launch.
An Asgardia spokesperson declined to disclose the organization’s funding plans or levels when Business Insider asked in October 2016, but claimed billionaire backer Ashurbeyli had put forth a substantial amount of money (via his company, Aerospace International Research Center) to keep the Asgardia project going.
Asgardia’s organizers have drawn plenty of criticism, but Jakhu brushes it off.
“Anyone who tries out-of-the-box things is initially ridiculed,” Jakhu previously said. “Everything that’s amazing starts with a crazy idea. After a while, science fiction becomes science fact, and this is an idea which is just being initiated.”
Disclosure: The author of this post registered as a citizen of Asgardia as part of his reporting.