Late last year, an international group of scientists announced that they were going ahead with plans to launch the first ever private space-based nation, Asgardia.
It sounded kinda nuts then, and it still seems nuts now, but according to a new FCC filing, plans are going full-steam ahead, as the brains behind Asgardia are looking to launch a data storage satellite that will orbit far beyond the reach of Earth-based laws and regulations.
“If Asgardia can find a launching country that is not a signatory to the space treaties, there are no international law obligations,” Mark Sundahl, a professor of space law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, told Motherboard.
“At that point, it’s the Wild West.”
Named after Norse mythology’s city in the skies, Asgardia is designed to be a permanent space station that will run asteroid mining missions, and provide defence for Earth against meteorites, space debris, and other serious threats.
They started recruiting back in October, claiming that the first 100,000 people to register would be granted citizenship of Asgardia alongside their nationality on Earth.
Now, over 180,000 Earthlings have reportedly pledged allegiance to the planned orbital nation.
The Asgardia flag, insignia, and national anthem are all currently being crowd-sourced, and are set to be finalised on June 18.
It plans to establish its own currency and calendar, which will add an extra month to our Earthly 12-month calendar, called Asgard, which sits between June and July.
“We must leave [Earth] because it’s very much in the nature of humanity,” Ram Jakhu, director of McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law and Asgardia founding member, told Business Insider last year.
“Humanity left Africa and covered the whole globe. The resources of Earth will be depleted. [W]e have a wish to go where nobody has gone before.”
At the time, the founders had announced that they planned to launch a satellite called Asgardia-1 within 18 months, followed by the space station, and judging by this recent FCC filing, they’re at least on track to get the first stage done.
The document states that the group plans to launch their satellite by September 2017, piggybacking on a supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The tiny CubeSat satellite – measuring approximately 10 cm on each side, and weighing around 1 kilogram – will carry a 512GB solid state drive pre-loaded with data, but exactly what data it will contain has yet to be disclosed.
As Mark Harris reports for Motherboard, the satellite will also be testing how viable this kind of ‘off-planet’ data storage can be:
“Asgardia-1 will also contain internal and external particle detectors ‘to determine the radiation dosing that the internal electronics are receiving’, says the filing.
The mission is intended to ‘demonstrate long term storage of data in low earth orbit’, although the satellite itself will remain aloft for only five years before atmospheric friction drags it down and burns it up.”
Depending on the success of this first mission, it could open up a world of lawless data storage in space – something that the Pirate Bay owners would be very interested in.
In terms of how legal any of this is, that’s up for debate, but all this talk exposes how ill-equipped Earth’s legal systems are for dealing with private citizens who want to colonise our cosmic neighbourhood.
Steven Freeland, a professor of international law at Western Sydney University who recently completed a review of Australia’s Space Activities Act, predicts that enterprising citizens will be taking advantage of the lawlessness of space before regulations can catch up.
“Ultimately people will get married in space, have babies in space, and murder each other in space. You need concrete proposals, and I think a project like this helps that along,” he told News.com.au, adding that the scientists behind Asgardia “are of the highest calibre and quality”.
The Asgardia founders are holding a press conference next week in Hong Kong to reveal its new satellite to the world.
“The event will mark a new era in the Space Age, 60 years after the first ever artificial space satellite, Sputnik 1, orbited Earth,” they announce on their website.
We’ll be watching the livestream, because this is something we can’t look away from just yet.