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The first nation in space finally launches Saturday aboard a commercial spacecraft set to blast off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

A rendering of Asgardia-1. 


Asgardia

Although the physical territory of Asgardia will consist solely of what’s basically just a floating file server in orbit, the self-proclaimed “space kingdom” insists the deployment of the satellite Asgardia-1 is just the beginning of a much grander vision of a true space state.

Asgardia is probably one of the few self-declared sovereign states you could fit in a backpack. Asgardia-1, a small cubesat that’s roughly the size of a loaf of bread, is among the 14 cubesats that will be launched from Wallops early Saturday aboard an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft bound for a long stop at the International Space Station. It will then have to wait at the ISS for a month before Cygnus detaches and heads to a higher altitude where the satellite can be deployed. 

Asgardia-1 will carry some key files, like the national constitution, flag and database of all its “citizens” (citizenship requires little more than filing out an application online and agreeing to the terms of the constitution), but most of its storage is filled with files uploaded by citizens. So far, over 100,000 humans have accepted the terms of the constitution and uploaded over 18,000 files to the satellite, according to Asgardia’s website.

The cubesat “will be our foundation stone, from which we will look to create a network of satellites that will help protect our planet against asteroids, solar flares, manmade space debris and other space hazards,” Asgardia’s leader and current one-man government, Russian nanoscientist Igor Ashurbeyli, said earlier this year.  

The reaction to the space nation-building project has been mixed. While over half a million would-be Asgardians have requested citizenship, others point out that the idea of claiming territory in space could conflict with existing law.

“(The Outer Space Treaty) says very clearly that no part of outer space can be appropriated by any state,” Professor Sa’id Mosteshar, director of the London Institute of Space Policy and Law, told the BBC

It’s also a stretch to consider Asgardia’s free orbiting cloud storage service an actual nation for even more fundamental reasons. The ramshackle treehouse I built in my backyard has been declared sovereign territory by at least one young girl dabbling in imaginary megalomania, but because no other nation on Earth has acknowledged that claim of independence, it carries about as much weight as Asgardia’s assertion of nationhood.

That said, my treehouse made from old closet doors and some plywood is arguably a more viable nation-state candidate since it’s at least possible a human could take up physical residence there, another requirement to meet the generally accepted definition of a country.

But the rationale for Asgardia-1 is that it represents a humble first step towards far greater ambitions. 

“The ultimate goal of Asgardia is to protect Earth from space threats,” reads the FAQ on Asgardia’s official website. “In order to preserve humanity and biodiversity of the Earth, Asgardia will organize and ensure the building of space arks (man-made inhabitable territories) and protective platforms in space to be used in the event of threats to the safety of humanity on the Earth and for space tourism, in the absence of threats. Asgardia’s long-term vision includes human settlements on the moon and possibly on other celestial bodies.”

Now that sounds more like a space kingdom. It also sounds similar to the vision of other space pioneers like Elon Musk and his audacious plan for a million-person colony on Mars

You can watch coverage of the Orbital ATK launch from Wallops below on NASA TV beginning at 4 a.m. PT Saturday. 

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