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.   

Image credits: Space Nation

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