A consortium of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and legal experts has announced plans to create the first ever nation in space.
The new nation will be called Asgardia - after Asgard, one of the Nine Worlds of the ancient gods ruled over by Odin in Norse mythology - and will be independent of any current nation state on Earth.
Asgardia will be built on a satellite, which will be launched into orbit in the Autumn of 2017 - 60 years after the launch of the first ever satellite, Sputnik.
It will have its own legal framework, flag and other symbols of nationhood, representing a new era in the "Space Age".
"Asgardia is a fully-fledged and independent nation, and a future member of the United Nations - with all the attributes this status entails," said Dr Igor Ashurbeyli, chairman of UNESCO’s Science of Space Committee and founder of the Aerospace International Research Centre in Vienna, who is leading the project.
"The essence of Asgardia is peace in space, and the prevention of Earth’s conflicts being transferred into space."
Under current international space law, including the widely adopted "Outer Space Treaty", states are required to authorise and supervise national space activities, including the activities of commercial and not-for-profit organisations.
Objects launched into space are subject to their nation of origin, and if a nation launches an object into space, that nation is responsible for any damage that occurs internationally and in outer space.
The Asgardia project aims to create a new framework for ownership and nationhood in space, which will adapt current outer space laws so they are fit for purpose in the new era of space exploration.
By creating a new space nation, the scientists hope to enable private enterprise, innovation and the further development of space technology to support humanity to flourish, free from the tight restrictions of state control that currently exist.
"As low-earth orbit becomes more accessible, what's often called the 'democratisation' of space, a pathway is opening up to new ideas and approaches from a rich diversity of participants," said Professor David Alexander, Director of the Rice Space Institute in Texas.
"The mission of Asgardia to create opportunities for broader access to space, enabling non-traditional space nations to realise their scientific aspirations is exciting."
ne of the first things the Asgardia team plans to do is create a state-of-the-art protective shield, designed to protect humankind from cosmic, manmade and natural threats to life on Earth - such as space debris, coronal mass ejections and asteroid collisions.
There are estimated to be more than 20,000 pieces of man-made space debris, including non-active spacecraft, upper-stage rockets and final stage vehicles as well as fragments of craft that potentially pose a dangerous situation in near-Earth orbits.
The Chelyabinsk meteorite, which crashed over a major Russian town in as 2013, injuring 1,100 people and damaging 4,000 buildings, is an example of the threat that natural objects pose to life on the planet.
While steps have already been taken by the UN and the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group to identify potentially hazardous scenarios, Asgardia will build on these developments to help offer a more comprehensive mechanism.
"The Asgardia project, among other things, may help prepare better answers to the future governance of outer space – a topic of major concern to the United Nations," said Dr. Joseph N. Pelton, former Dean of the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.
"The exciting aspect of this initiative is its three phase approach to providing broader access to space; promoting peace in outer space; and addressing cosmic hazards and planetary defence."
The Asgardia Project Team will be made up of leading experts from around the globe, and is envisaged to grow over time as the project evolves. However, it is not clear how Asgardia will be funded or governed.
Several key aspects of the project will be crowd-sourced - including involving members of the public in competitions to help design the nation's flag, insignia and other symbols of nationhood.
A website has been launched with further details about the project and public involvement. The site will allow the first 100,000 people to register to become citizens of Asgardia alongside their nationality on earth.
Once the number of applications exceeds 100,000, the organisation can officially apply to the UN for the status of state.