A Step Towards Democratising Space

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Russian rocket scientist and engineer Igor Ashurbeyli is trying to form Asgardia, what he calls the first space nation.

Asgardia is the so-called ‘first space nation’, dreamed up by a Russian rocket scientist.

If you’re thinking this is a follow-up toThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’re not far off. Russian rocket scientist and engineer Igor Ashurbeyli is trying to form Asgardia, what he calls the first space nation, a non-profit NGO, which, in the long term, he plans to lead to the first human habitation in space.

It will start with the launch of a small unmanned satellite — Asgardia-1 — into orbit in September, containing data hand-picked by the hundreds of thousands individuals who have voluntarily signed up for free to become the first citizens of Asgardia. That satellite will ride a cargo spacecraft up to the International Space Station and, once docked, it will be ejected into orbit. It will become the first footprint of Asgardia.

Ultimately Ashurbeyli wants to put several liveable “Noah’s Arks” into space that could provide a haven for humankind in the event of a major planetary disaster, such as an asteroid collision or a nuclear war.

Ashurbeyli said at a press conference in Hong Kong this week: “Asgardia is a country of space ideas for the benefit of all humankind.” He described his plan to create a peaceful, space-faring nation with a government recognised by the UN. He is funding the entire project himself.

With the help of lawyer Ram Jakhu, director of McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law, he has drafted a constitution that will be put before the UN next week, for recognition as a nation state. “It’s out-of-the-box thinking. Even I would say, out-of-the-world thinking,” concedes Jakhu.

No doubt it sounds wacky, and there are many, many unanswered questions.

But the philosophy behind it could be of importance. We are on the brink of a ‘New Space Age’ in which only governments and a handful of billionaires have unprecedented access to space, including Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Virgin’s Richard Branson and Yuri Milner of Digital Sky Technologies.

But for the vast majority of individuals and businesses, a presence in space is unthinkable. Asgardia seeks to remove those boundaries by opening up access to space for commerce, science and for people from all around the world.

“The idea is to provide equal opportunities for people in space, to democratise space, as the new frontier,” adds Jakhu.

With Ashurbeyli at the press conference was Jeffrey Manber, entrepreneur founder of NanoRacks. NanoRacks is a company that deploys satellites into space (180 so far), focused on creating a commercial marketplace to allow space to be another place to live, work and do business.

Most of the research hardware on the International Space Station is owned by NanoRocks, via NASA. Its clients are companies, universities and schools. One of Manber’s clients is billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space exploration company Blue Origin.

Manber’s company was contracted by Asgardia to find the nano-satellite that will represent Asgardia’s first venture into space. Manber said that the move could have important political and social ramifications about how we see space.

“I founded NanoRacks seven years ago to democratise access to space — we created it for this exact purpose. If you make access to space easier and more efficient, creative ideas will come out that you just could not anticipate,” he says. “Certainly Asgardia is the most creative and it may turn out to be the most important company that we’re working with.”

The satellite that NanoRacks will send up via rocket in September, will be about the size of a loaf of bread and weigh about 3kg. It will contain whatever data Asgardian citizens want to put into orbit. The data that individuals choose to send is up to them. “It could be important documents or a photo of their cat,” says Ashurbeyli.

The first 100,000 Asgardians can send up to 500KB each to Asgardia-1. The next 400,000 Asgardians can send up to 200KB. The next million citizens can send up to 100KB each. After that, free storage will be closed.

“These are historic days, and your names and data will forever stay in the memory of the new space humanity, as they will be reinstalled on every following Asgardia satellite, orbital satellite constellations, on the Moon and anywhere in the Universe — wherever Asgardia will be," says Ashurbeyli.

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