Ever seen those cool Sci-fi movies where people live on huge space arks just minding about their own business and cruising through space? Wouldn’t it be awesome to live in a world like that! Haven’t we all wondered about how great life would be in a place like that. It seems like a crazy dream we won’t be able to live in for a few decades. But I’m here to tell you that it might be sooner that we expected.
The First-Ever Space Nation
Welcome to Asgardia. The first ever space nation, in theory available to everyone here on Earth, given they have the required skills and abilities. “Asgardia” was chosen as a reference to Asgard, one of the nine worlds of Norse Mythology. This nation is being created with three top goals in mind: to ensure the peaceful use of space, to protect the Earth from space hazards, and to create a demilitarized and free scientific base of knowledge in space. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well it gets cooler. Asgardia also has a long-term objective of setting up habitable platforms in space and building settlements on the Moon. They believe that the creation of a new legal platform for the exploration of near-Earth and deep space is crucial to keep pace with humanity’s rapid technological and scientific expansion off-planet. Universal space law and astro-politics have to replace the current outdated international space law and geopolitical system we currently have.
Announced on 12 October 2016, the ultimate aim of the project is to create a new nation that allows access to outer space free of the control of existing nations. The current space law framework, the Outer Space Treaty requires governments to authorize and supervise all space activities, including the activities of non-governmental entities such as commercial and non-profit organizations. So now by attempting to create a nation, those behind Asgardia hope to avoid the tight restrictions that the current system imposes.
People were invited to register for citizenship, so that ultimately Asgardia can apply to the United Nations and officially gain recognition as a nation state. In less than 2 days, there were over 100,000 applications; within 3 weeks, there were 500,000! After tougher verification requirements were introduced, the number declined and came at about 210,000 in June 2017. It’s not just for show, there is actual intention to move these members into space. Asgardia intends to apply for membership of the UN in 2018.
Backed by a number of international space experts, the project was initiated by Russian scientist and businessman, Igor Ashurbeyli, founder of the Aerospace International Research Center. As part of the application process, members were required to confirm him as “Head of Nation”. Yes, that in fact happened. But not to worry, Ashurbeyli moved to a democratic system during 2017. The nation state officially calls itself the “Space Kingdom of Asgardia”.
The Space Nation of Asgardia is proposed to consist of a constellation network of satellites, space arks and settlements on the moon. It has even obtained its own constitution and parliament.
The major problem that Asgardia will face is gaining recognition by the UN. The “Outer Space Treaty (OST)” prevents any nation from claiming territory in space and forces the governments to control any and all space exploration activities occurring in their region.
Even if that problem is resolved, another problem comes forward. How will they be self-sustaining in water and food? It’s not as if they have soil and natural occurring rain from where they can get that easily. It’s going to take in a lot of advanced machinery and the utmost efficiency to achieve the level of self-sustainability we enjoy on Earth.
Recognition and territorial claims
Ram Jakhu, the director of McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law, and Asgardia’s legal expert, believes that Asgardia will be able to fulfill three of the four elements that the UN requires when considering if it’s a nation state or not: citizens; a government; territory and being an inhabited spacecraft. In that situation, Jakhu considers that fulfilling the fourth element i.e. gaining recognition by the UN member states will be achievable. This will allow Asgardia to be able to apply for the UN membership. The Security Council would then have to assess the application, as well as obtain approval from two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly.
Existing international law prohibits national sovereignty claims of celestial bodies in space, however, the OST Article VIII notes that the State that launches a space object retains jurisdiction and control over that object.
According to Sa’id Mosteshar of the London Institute of Space Policy and Law:
The Outer Space Treaty… accepted by everybody says very clearly that no part of outer space can be appropriated by any state.” Without self-governing territory in space where citizens are present, Mosteshar suggested that the prospect any country would recognise Asgardia was slim.
Joanne Gabrynowicz, an expert in space law and a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology School of Law, believes that Asgardia will have trouble attaining recognition as a nation. She says there are a
number of entities on Earth whose status as an independent nation have been a matter of dispute for a long time. It is reasonable to expect that the status of an unpopulated object that is not on Earth will be disputed.”
Christopher Newman, an expert in space law at the UK’s University of Sunderland, highlights that Asgardia is trying to achieve a “complete re-visitation of the current space-law framework,” anticipating that the project will face significant obstacles with getting UN recognition and dealing with liability issues. The Outer Space Treaty requires the country that sends a mission into space to be responsible for the mission, including any damage it might cause. So the pressure is on Russia now.
Let’s see whether our wildest fantasies can actually become reality.