A New Space Age

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

Space, and our place in it, is a big topic of discussion right now.

We have private companies vying for a place beyond our atmosphere, alongside governments attempting to position themselves for the future as our world continues to struggle with mounting population, resource and climate issues.

We even, apparently, have the United States’ Congress contemplating a ‘space army’… because… um… the Covenant are coming?  Could be the Cylons.  We’d probably want to stop the Cylons.  Probably the Covenant too.  But I digress.

Space is a hot topic and it’s only going to get hotter.

In previous articles, we’ve reported on the body whose job it is to encourage the nations of the world to cooperate on all things “outer space” – the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.  It’s also this body’s job to keep a register of all objects launched into orbit.  And there are a lot.

All of that is a hefty responsibility, particularly for what is, essentially, a very small group of people operating from what is, nowadays, outdated legislation.

Governing all things Outer Space for Earth is the ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.’  Yes.  That’s something of a mouthful!

The Treaty, in brief, provides a basic framework on international space law, and includes the following:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by government or non-governmental entities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects, and;
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Obviously, they need to update the language to say “humanity”, instead of “mankind”, but they also need to review the whole thing because unless I’m mistaken we’ve launched quite a few harmful objects into orbit that threaten the safety of any mission that carries humans into space, as well as the lives of every astronaut on the International Space Station (and if a satellite goes rogue and smashes into the ISS, I don’t know if any nation could afford to repair it), plus, things fall to Earth and if they survive re-entry, some of those things are very radioactive.

I’m also pretty sure some businesses, and perhaps even governments, want to lay claim to certain celestial bodies for mining rights.

The International Space Station

The Treaty was signed in January 1967, by the Russian Federation, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.  Over time, others have become signatories or ‘party’ to the Treaty, though not all nations on Earth have bothered – mostly because they don’t have space programs.

The Treaty has been amended over the years, but could still do with a rework as we face that once final frontier, right now.

Treaty Declaration - UN

50 years ago, when the Treaty came into being, years before most of us were born, all of this was the stuff of science fiction.  Now it is science fact.

Elon Musk intends to die on Mars, Australian Scientists have just worked out a way to make astronauts safer in space (thank you Australian National University) thanks to a new nano-material they’ve created that can reflect light on demand and has a temperature control, and can, it is believed, be developed further to protect our brave space pioneers from harmful interstellar radiation.

As each year passes, we grow closer and closer to making those things that inspired my generation – and possibly yours – a reality: China and Europe are exploring the idea of building a human outpost on the moon (hello Space: 1999), multiple agencies and governments and businesses are gearing up to travel to Mars (hopefully not is any sort of a disastrous way – we’re looking at you, Mission to Mars and Red Planet), and multiple space-mining companies are springing up (Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, and Kepler Energy and Space Engineering bringing with them visions of The Expanse and the dynamics that exist between Earth, Luna, Mars and the asteroid belts in our solar system) looking at ways to help Earth and humanity.

What’s going to happen as industry and government vie for control of the incredible resources that exist beyond the atmosphere of our small but beautiful blue-green planet?

What happens if greed overrides the common good?

News.com.au and other outlets around the world, recently reported that one particular asteroid’s precious metal deposits could crash the world’s economy.

How long will idealism stand against the level of wealth available to us beyond Earth?

The ideal would be that we could all come together, like Space: 1999 and Star Trek propose, but the reality of human nature is that greed is here and it’s been around for a long time, and, sadly, a lot of people are motivated by that.  As a result, we’ve justified wars for resources on this world for centuries and chances are we will find ways to justify wars for resources off world too.  Is it possible our next big conflict won’t be a World War, but a resource war fought over the Asteroid Belt or the Kuiper Belt?

One thing is certain, we as a species are finally heading into space.  We got there, at least as far as our moon, then sort of retreated, built an international space station, and dreamed while waiting for someone with courage to propel us forward again.  Now it looks like we’re finally returning to space and planning to go further than we’ve ever gone before.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do it in a way that is measured and sensible, and that benefits all of humanity and not just the rich, and hopefully the United Nations will help us do that and do it with wisdom.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be alive, and an incredibly frightening one as well.  Some of our greatest minds don’t believe we, as a species, can survive on Earth much longer because of our growing population and disappearing resources, and as a result have to go out into space.  They’re probably right.

The decisions we make right now, the precedents we set, and the way we go about establishing this foundation of exploration, is so vitally important.

What can you do about it?

Get involved.  Whether through aspiring to be one of those space pioneers one day, or by holding your elected representatives accountable, you can, in some small way, have a say on whether or not our future as a species takes these next steps wisely, or selfishly.

We’ve kind of screwed up Mother Earth.  It would be nice if we at least learned from the mistakes we’ve made.

As much as I love some of the almost dystopic science fiction out there, I don’t want our future generations living any of those possible realities.

Do you?

As all of this starts to ‘nut’ itself out, we’ll report on it here. The future is being built right now, and hopefully it will be built on strong and lasting foundations.

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Asgardia

asgardia-space-nation

This is one of the more surprising announcements I’ve heard in a long time.

On the 12th of October in Paris, the leaders of something called the Asgardia Project discussed their proposed ‘space nation’, called Asgardia, and announced it was accepting applications for citizenship.

The leaders of the project say they aim to launch Asgardia‘s first satellite in 2017 and say they hope to eventually have a space station in low orbit where the people of this ‘nation state’ could live.  Not all people identifying as Asgardians would live on Asgardia, some would stay on Earth but identify as being citizens of that nation – just as some of us live in other countries, but identify as being a citizen of our country of birth.

According to the project’s website, which you can visit here, Asgardia has been named for Asgard, the home of the Norse Gods.

I haven’t been able to work out why, but perhaps some intensive research into Nordic folk lore might present a rationale.

On the project’s “concept” page, the leaders of this proposed nation state say that Asgardia will “…demonstrate to scientists throughout the world that independent, private and unrestricted research is possible.”

That sounds both exciting and slightly ominous.  Sometimes, research is restricted for very good reasons.

Asgardia intends to be a democracy that encourages its citizenry to develop space technologies.

The project founder and its team leader is Doctor Igor Ashurbeyli, a Russian businessman and scientist from Azerbaijan.  He was the CEO of SPA Almaz from 2000 to 2011 and was also the Chairman of the Board of Socium Holding.  Dr Ashurbeyli has a PhD in Engineering with a specialisation in Computer Science, according to Wikipedia.

Asgardia is not yet an official nation state as recognised by the United Nations, and the project leaders believe they will need tens of thousands of ‘citizens’ before they can formally apply for recognition.

Each citizen who wishes to apply to become a part of Asgardia needs to be able to meet the UN requirements for multiple citizenship’s, and has to be willing to be part of a democracy that has, as its goals, service to humanity and “peace in space”.

It’s a fascinating proposal, and according to the website, if I’m reading it right, they’ve had 446,996 applications to date from countries all around the world including China, the United States, Turkey, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Italy, India, the Russian Federation, Iran and Australia.  Their 446,996 applications for citizenry, according to their website, makes them the 168th largest ‘nation’ on Earth, just below Cape Verde and just above Malta (at the time of writing this article).

In the hour I spent researching Asgardia, I saw their numbers increase by a couple of hundred, so the word is definitely out there.

If you’d like to learn more about this initiative, Asgardia‘s official website is here, their facebook page is here or you can do a Google search and check out one of the many articles that have been written up about this audacious and ambitious idea.

Asgardia is both exciting, and frightening.  Frightening because I’ve watched too many sci-fi films where these sorts of things go awry, and exciting because we are already an extremely over-populated planet, and I firmly believe our future is both here on Earth, in orbit, and in space.

If the Doctor and his leadership team really do have the best intentions at heart, I wish them the very best in their endeavours.

Either way, at some point, we as a planet and the United Nations as an entity, are going to have to consider the reality of human beings living and being born in space, and the question of citizenship (among many other things) will come up.

It will be interesting to see if the UN and the rest of the world takes Asgardia seriously once they apply for recognition as an independent nation state.

If they do, I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

This really is an exciting and sometimes strange century to be living in.

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United Nations Space Mission

united-nations-space-mission-banner

On the 27th of September, the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs and Sierra Nevada Corporation announced details about the first ever UN dedicated space mission at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The mission will give developing countries the opportunity to propose and fly microgravity payloads for an extended duration in orbit.

Though the mission gives developing countries a chance to participate in a mission they would not otherwise be able to take part in, the mission also gives all Member States the chance to propose payloads for the mission.

The historic mission will take place on board the Sierra Nevada Corporation spacecraft Dream Chaser.

Simonetta Di Pippo, the Director of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) said, at the official announcement, “One of UNOOSA’s core responsibilities is to promote international cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space.  I am proud to say that one of the ways UNOOSA will achieve this, in cooperation with our partner Sierra Nevada Corporation, is by dedicating an entire microgravity mission to United Nations Member States, many of which do not have the infrastructure or financial backing to have a standalone space programme.”

Funding for the mission will come from a variety of sources, with the countries chosen to participate paying a pro-rated portion of the mission cost based on the payload to be taken into orbit, and based on the Member State’s ability to pay.

The Sierra Nevada Corporation‘s Dream Chaser is the only reusable, lifting-body, multi-mission-spacecraft capable of landing at commercial airports or space ports in the world, which means the ship can land at any Member State supplying a payload for the mission.

The announcement is an exciting move that takes us one step closer to the future postulated in Space: 1999.

For more information, read the UN official announcement here.

The mission is still a little while away, and as more information comes to light we’ll report it here.

For more information on the Sierra Nevada Corporation, visit their official site here where you can also find more details on the spacecraft that will take the first steps to opening up space exploration for all UN Member States.

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