The Space Kingdom of Asgardia has just crossed a significant milestone: it launched its first satellite on November 12. Is this the early beginnings of a legitimate virtual nation?
This rocket contains what might be the beginnings of a space nation. [Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA/AFP/Getty Images]
Asgardia sounds like a kingdom on a floating island in a massive multiplayer online role-playing game, which therefore makes it a fitting name. It’s not really a kingdom in the traditional sense, or even in the video game sense. It does have its own constitution, and it’s currently seeking to be recognized as independent by the United Nations.
One of its main goals is to be able to access outer space outside of the control and influence of any existing governments on Earth. This is because under the Outer Space Treaty, governments are required to supervise all activities pertaining to space, including non-government and commercial organizations. The current system has very strict regulations, but that doesn’t have to be a problem if you establish your own nation.
The bread loaf-sized satellite
A Russian businessman and scientist named Igor Ashurbeyli, founder of Aerospace International Research Center, also founded the project in a Paris hotel room and announced it on October 12 of last year. If you’re familiar with Norse mythology, the name “Asgardia” was taken from “Asgard”, home of the Norse gods. Ashurbeyli’s vision is that of a more egalitarian nation than any here on Earth.
Over 100,000 people signed up to be Asgardia’s citizens within two days of Ashurbeyli’s announcement. This swelled to 500,000 in three weeks, and reports say that there are now about 115,000 Asgardian citizens. People who have become citizens of Asgardia are bound by the virtual nation’s constitution and also have a set of rights and duties. One of those rights, apparently, is the right to store files on the kingdom’s first satellite, Asgardia-1.
Igor Ashurbeyli, father of a nation [Photo by Linda Yeleussizova]
The satellite is about the same size as a loaf of bread, containing half a terabyte of data. Stored on the satellite is information about the virtual nation: its constitution, symbols, and the data from its citizens.
Asgardia-1 launched from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, carried by an Orbital ATK Antares rocket. The satellite is piggybacking on a Cygnus spacecraft, which will release Asgardia-1 into orbit after it undocks from the International Space Station.
Asgardia-1 launches to space.
While Asgardia calls itself a space kingdom, it doesn’t actually aim to send its citizens to space--at least not yet, and not any time soon. Thus, it doesn’t really fall under the basic definition of a nation, since its people doesn’t actually have a defined territory to live in.
Asgardia-1 set to orbit the Earth between six months to five years, after which it will swan dive to its death back into Earth’s atmosphere. Thus, the virtual nation is definitely starting small with this first step in establishing its presence in space. "The long-term vision of Asgardia is to have habitable platforms in space. This is one of the core goals," says the frequently asked questions page on Asgardia’s website. "Asgardia’s second core goal is to build protective shields for the entire planet Earth from any space threats."
These goals aren’t actually all that different from the goals of traditional space agencies. Though Asgardia was created to be able to step around the laws governing space flight, it will actually have to subject itself to international laws, like the 50-year-old Outer Space Treaty, for it to gain the legitimacy it aspires to.
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