SPACE EXPLORATION

Russian billionaire in Hong Kong touts world’s first space nation Asgardia

With more than 28,000 Chinese, including over 1,000 Hongkongers behind the project, plans afoot for a place free from earthly political and legal constraints

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 5:37pm

More than 28,000 Chinese, including over 1,000 Hongkongers, have joined the “world’s first space nation” founded by a Russian billionaire and scientist.

Named “Asgardia” after the city of skies in Norse mythology, the unusual project is backed by a group of scientists keen to create an independent nation outside existing political and legal frameworks.

Project lead and “head of nation” Igor Ashurbeyli on Tuesday called on the 200,000 members to vote on a “constitution” online this Sunday, which he said would define the new country.

Speaking in Hong Kong, Ashurbeyli, 53, described the city as significant for the nation as it was “one of the biggest international, financial and commercial centres in the world”.

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“And also, the biggest population of Asgardia today live in the People’s Republic of China.”

Turkey and the US come second and third in terms of number of members.

Ashurbeyli unveiled the idea of Asgardia at a press conference in Paris last year, pledging to build a country free from ethnic and religious divisions as well as the laws of the Earth.

The group states its goal as ensuring the peaceful use of space, protecting Earth from “space threats” and creating a demilitarised and free scientific knowledge base in space.

The nation’s first space presence will be a small satellite due to be launched from the US this autumn.

A total of 1.5 million “Asgardians” will be able to store data in the 10cm by 10cm by 20cm, 2.8-kg satellite, the group said.

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The United Nations Outer Space Treaty states that outer space is not subject to sovereignty claims. But the group, now registered as a non-governmental organisation, hopes to one day join the United Nations and establish embassies in existing states.

Ashurbeyli said the country would soon establish a parliament in which seats would be allocated proportionately to people speaking different languages.

I’m sure that anything coming from Asgardia that we’ll design will also come to life during our lifetime
Igor Ashurbeyli, ‘head of nation’

Currently, more than 60 per cent of the “citizens” are native English speakers, while native Chinese speakers account for about 11 per cent.

The parliament would decide the group’s operations, including its budget and taxation policies.

To date, Ashurbeyli has been paying for all the nation’s expenses, from making and launching the satellite to hiring a Chinese public relations firm.

He did not reveal how much he paid for the satellite, but such projects cost an average of US$700,000, according to Jeffrey Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, the company responsible for deploying the space device.

Ashurbeyli said Asgardia would have space stations in orbit and on the moon.

And although almost all Asgardia’s activities are conducted online, its leader insisted the country – with its own calendar system, public holidays, and soon, national flag and anthem – was more than a computer game.

“I’m an engineer, and I’m used to seeing the results of my work during my lifetime,” he said. “I’m sure that anything coming from Asgardia that we’ll design will also come to life during our lifetime.”