What is Asgardia?

Asgardia, also known as the “Space Kingdom of Asgardia” and “Asgardia the Space Nation”, is a micronation formed by a group of people who have launched a satellite into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). They refer to themselves as Asgardians and have given their satellite the name Asgardia-1. They have declared sovereignty over the space occupied by and contained within Asgardia -1. The Asgardians have adopted a constitution and they intend to access outer space free of the control of existing nations, and establish a permanent settlement on the Moon by 2043.

The nation proposal was announced in October 2016 by Igor Ashurbeyli, the founder of the International Center for Aerospace Research (Vienna), and by the chair of the UNESCO Space Science Committee. Asgardia has not yet attained the goal of being recognized as a state.

How does Asgardia works?

The Constitution of Asgardia divides Governance of Asgardia into three branches: (1) a legislative branch named the Parliament, (2) an executive branch named the Government, and (3) a judicial branch named the Court.

(1) The Parliament is composed of one hundred and fifty non-partisan members and each member is referred to as a Member of Parliament (MP). The Members of Parliament elect one Member to the office of Chairman of the Parliament. The Members of Parliament also appoint the Chairman of the Government. The Parliament has twelve permanent committees; the Chairman of Parliament of Asgardia is Mr. Lembit Opik.

(2) The Head of Nation is the most senior official of the executive branch. The Head of Nation is elected to a 5-year term of office. The Head of Nation may dissolve the Parliament and may then order the holding of parliamentary elections. The Head of Nation may initiate legislative proposals and may veto acts adopted by the Parliament. The Head of Nation may issue decrees that must be obeyed by governmental bodies and by the citizens of Asgardia. The Head of Nation is Igor Ashurbeyli.

The Chairman of the Government supervises twelve Ministers. Each Minister supervises the operation of one Government Ministry. Each of the permanent committees of Parliament monitors the operation of one Government Ministry. The Parliament may invite Ministers to attend meetings of the Parliament. Asgardia’s Head of the Government is Ms. Ana Díaz.

(3) The judicial branch includes a Supreme Justice, who supervises the operation of four judicial panels: (1) a constitutional panel, (2) a civil panel, (3) an administrative panel, and (4) a criminal panel. The Supreme Justice is appointed by the Head of Nation. The Justices who serve on the judicial panels are appointed by the Parliament.

Asgardia’s Supreme Justice is Zhao Yun, head of the Department of Law at The University of Hong Kong, and was appointed as Asgardia’s Supreme Justice on June 24, 2018 during the first parliamentary session in Vienna, where he was introduced to the elected Members of Parliament.

Its activities

Asgardia intends to launch a series of satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Its first satellite was successfully launched by Orbital ATK on November 12, 2017 as part of an International Space Station resupply mission.

Asgardia-1 was boosted to space and then deployed by U.S. companies on a NASA-funded mission; so the satellite falls under U.S. jurisdiction. Asgardia intends to partner with a non-signatory to the Outer Space Treaty (OST), perhaps an African state such as Ethiopia or Kenya, in the hopes of circumventing the OST’s restriction on states claiming territory in outer space. The satellite is expected to have a lifetime of five years before its orbit decays and it burns up on re-entry.

Often described as a billionaire, Igor Ashurbeyli, Head of Nation, has said that he is currently solely responsible for funding Asgardia, and that members will not be funding the planned first satellite launch. Although the cost has not been made publicly available, NanoRacks have said that similar projects cost approximatively seven hundred thousand American dollars. The project intends to move to crowdfunding to finance itself. Sa’id Mosteshar, of the London Institute of Space Policy and Law, says this suggests that Asgardia lacks a credible business plan. A company, Asgardia AG, has been incorporated, and members can buy shares in it. Asgardia wants to enable its founders’ companies to use Asgardia’s satellite network for their own services and business activities. These are to be settled via the crypto currency Solar and the reserve currency Lunar.

Eventually, Asgardia hopes to have a colony in orbit. This will be expensive: the International Space Station costed one hundred billion American dollars to build, and flights to it cost over forty million American dollars per launch. Asgardia has been compared to the troubled Mars One project, which aims to establish a permanent colony on Mars, although Asgardia’s organizers point out that setting up a small nation in orbit will be a lot easier than colonizing distant Mars. Other proposed goals for the future include shielding the Earth from asteroids and coronal mass ejections, and a Moon base.

Its future

Both U.N. General Assembly Resolution 1962 (XVIII) and the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967 have established all of outer space as an international commons by describing it as the “province of all mankind” and, as a fundamental principle of space law, declaring that space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to any national sovereignty claim. Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty vests the responsibility for activities in space to States Parties, regardless of whether they are carried out by governments or non-governmental entities. Article VIII enounces that the State Party to the Treaty that launches a space object shall retain jurisdiction and control over that object.

According to Sa’id Mosteshar, “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, Sa’id Mosteshar suggested that the prospect any country would recognize Asgardia was slim.

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 fulfil three of the four elements that the U.N. requires when considering if an entity is a state : citizens ; a government ; and territory, being an inhabited spacecraft. In that situation, Ram Jakhu considers that fulfilling the fourth element, gaining recognition by the U.N. member states, will be achievable, and Asgardia will then be able to apply for U.N. 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.

Joanne Gabrynowicz, an expert in space law and a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology’s 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.

Finally, 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 U.N. 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. That is what can be said concerning Asgardia.