The Finnish app that trains you to be an astronaut just signed a major deal with NASA
Space Nation – the Finnish startup that wants to send people to space with the help of a smartphone app – just added extra clout to its ambitious astronaut training plans, having signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA.
A Space Act Agreement is a contract NASA enters into with organisations deemed to advance the US agency’s mission and overall programme goals. These can range from deals with big engineering firms like Lockheed Martin, to partnerships with universities and institutes, and collaborations with private firms like Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Instead of offering technical or scientific expertise, Space Nation is billing itself as an app-based astronaut training programme, feeding into a series of real-life bootcamps that will eventually result in a person being sent into space to conduct research. This idea is that, as well as an accessible entry-point into an international space-travel competition, the app acts as a personal training tool using official astronaut coaching methods.
This aspect of Space Nation’s plans will form the backbone of its partnership with NASA. CEO and co-founder Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola told Alphr that the Space Act Agreement will enable the startup to work with NASA to refine the training experiences it offers in the app. “We can use NASA’s expertise and content to make the experience better. This affects all parts of the app.”
Space Nation plans to have an exchange of knowledge and expertise “on a regular basis” as the app is developed, with a global testing phase due to start on 4 October, and a global launch in February 2018. You can read our interview with the company’s co-founders here.
Creating an astronaut training app is one thing, but the big question will be how partnerships with agencies such as NASA pan out when it comes to actually sending a person into space. In May, Space Nation bought a portion of “office space” on the International Space Station, with the aim of renting it out to organisations that want to conduct experiments. It also became the world’s first space tourism agency to be made an affiliate member of the United Nation’s World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
Partnerships with NASA, ISS and the UN are an encouraging sign that Space Nation may deliver on its challenging goals, although there is inevitably a degree of incongruity in people’s minds between space travel and an app that sits on your smartphone. It may be the case that it’s not until the app launches and Space Nation’s plans go into action that the prospect of a Finnish startup sending someone into orbit becomes tangible. Kalle says the company will have more information about its future schedule in November this year.
UK-China collaboration for space education
In related news, also announced today, is a new partnership between the UK and China to establish a joint Virtual Centre for collaborative space research, education and culture between the two countries.
The Centre will be based on the existing UK-China Joint Laboratory Programme in Space Science and Technology, which is led by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and with the support of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
The UK National Space Academy will also be a major part of the new partnership, having signed a Memorandum of Understanding with leading UK and China space scientists. Built on the success of the Academy’s previous education experiments, conducted by ESA astronaut Tim Peake on the ISS, it has been invited by China’s National Space Administration to work alongside Chinese organisations to create new education experiments. These will fly on future China unmanned and human spaceflight missions, marking the first time such an invitation has been given to an organisation outside of China.
Professor Anu Ojha OBE, Director of the UK National Space Academy, claimed that the new centre would give UK teachers, students and researchers “new opportunities to work in partnership with one of the world’s most ambitious space programmes – through student masterclasses and teacher programmes held in China and the UK, through dedicated programmes conducted at the heart of China’s space programme and through the opportunity for us to develop new teaching experiments that will be conducted on China’s planned Space Station”.
Creating a stronger framework of education cooperation is generally always a good thing, and the Virtual Centre has its sights on widening partners to encompass major culture organisations such as leading science museums. Against a backdrop of increasing tensions between the West and China over North Korea, it also comes as a reminder of the potential for space exploration to act as a crucial political bridge between nations.
Image credits: Space Nation, UK National Space Academy