In Norse mythology, Asgard is the home of the gods. Now that mythical realm may inspire the first off-world nation: Asgardia.
Leading the project is Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli, founder of the Aerospace International Research Center (AIRC). Dr. Ashurbeyli's vision is to create a foundation for future space exploration and scientific experimentation. He also would like Asgardia to protect Earth from being bombarded by stuff like space junk and meteors.
Ashurbeyli thinks big.
According to project leaders, all of these plans meet global law. You may have heard of the "Outer Space Treaty," which restricts what nations can do in space. For example, no country can lay claim to a celestial body. Countries also can't weaponize space. But establishing a new nation in space itself is a different matter. If the country is truly independent, it's not an example of an existing country trying to expand its borders into orbit.
But where would such a nation exist? Initially, the entire country would consist of a single satellite in orbit. This satellite, scheduled to launch in 2017, will have its own laws, flag and even national anthem (the project has opened up opportunities for people to design flags and compose music for the new nation). The eventual goal would be to establish a permanent space station and have Asgardia one day join the United Nations.
One of the fundamental philosophies behind Asgardia's creation is to create an opportunity for more countries to access space. Out of the more than 190 countries on Earth, only 13 have independently launched satellites into orbit. Most countries lack the technical and legal capability to launch their own satellites. Working with one of the 13 countries that have launched material into space is problematic — it requires the country launching the spacecraft to supervise and take accountability for the spacecraft's payload, even if the payload came from another country.
That limits what spacefaring nations are willing to launch into space. Asgardia, being an independent nation unto itself, would act as a legal platform for broader access to low-Earth orbit. The project leaders also hope that Asgardia's rules will better suit the new era of private space industry, something that wasn't a factor when countries signed the original Outer Space Treaty.
Beyond that, Asgardia would play a key role in protecting Earth from catastrophic collisions. One of Asgardia's first tasks will be to create a "protective shield" for Earth. Rather than identify and track potential threats, Asgardia will attempt to prevent collisions. Exactly how Asgardia will play a role in planetary defense is still unclear.
Will the plan work? Will the nations of Earth soon welcome a new member orbiting miles above the planet's surface? That remains to be seen.
But one thing is for certain: In the eyes of Asgardia's team, the sky is not the limit.