Only a decade after the launch of Bitcoin and the simultaneous creation of blockchain technology, there are now multiple companies developing blockchain-based decentralized networks in space. Blockchain technology seems to be a natural fit for space exploration due to its immutability and decentralization, ensuring fair and safe internet access amid an increasingly fierce space race between corporations and governments.
In order to understand the utility of blockchain in space, and why blockchain technology will likely play a critical role in future space exploration, it is important to recap how the space race has evolved up to this point.
It has only been 62 years since the first satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched into space by the Soviet Union in 1957. Although Sputnik 1 was relatively simple, having only a couple of radio transmitters that emitted periodic beeps, its launch captured the imagination of the world and kicked off the space race.
The Soviet Union went on to become the first nation to launch a satellite to the Moon in 1959, launched the first human into space in 1961, conducted the first flyby of Venus in 1961, and landed the first spacecraft on the Moon in 1966. However, the United States rapidly developed its own space program called NASA, and in 1967 it landed the first humans on the Moon via the Apollo 11 mission.
Although Apollo 11 was a dazzling success, the near loss of Apollo 13 in 1970 led to a public realization regarding how dangerous and costly space travel is, and by 1972 the last Apollo mission launched. Humans have not returned to the moon since then. Over the next couple of decades, NASA went on to explore the rest of the Solar System with the Pioneer and Voyager missions, as well as other robotic missions, but the original space race has become stale with no astronauts launching beyond low Earth orbit in the past 47 years.
A new private space race kicked off in the year 2000, bringing new life to the ultimate sci-fi dream of colonizing space. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the richest man in the world, created Blue Origin in the year 2000. The ultimate goal of Blue Origin is to create colonies in space as well as a colony on the Moon, although the first moon landing, codenamed Blue Moon, is not scheduled until 2024.
A couple of years after the creation of Blue Origin, Elon Musk founded SpaceX, which is perhaps the leading private space company currently. Since 2006, SpaceX has launched 80 space missions, including numerous satellite launches and resupply trips to the International Space Station. The ultimate goal of SpaceX is to “make life interplanetary”, with missions to the Moon and then Mars. Another competitor in the new private space race is Virgin Galactic, which is focusing on sub-orbital space tourism, with the goal of making space a vacation destination, rather than launching humans into deep space.
Thus, space exploration has become more decentralized, with the space race shifting from being a competition between the United States and the former Soviet Union to being a competition between private companies funded by billionaires. This trend of decentralization in space is being enhanced by the launch of the first blockchain-based satellites, Blockstream and SpaceChain.
Decentralizing the final frontier
There are four Blockstream Satellites in geosynchronous orbit 35,786 km above the Earth, codenamed Galaxy 18, Eutelsat 113, Telstar 11N, and Telstar 18V. These satellites provide coverage to most of North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. The point is to provide Bitcoin network connectivity to the world that is independent of ground-based internet.
Ground stations called Teleports beam Bitcoin blockchain information to the Blockstream Satellites, and these then broadcast this information to most of the Earth. Anyone with a small satellite antenna and USB receiver can tap into the Blockstream Satellites and connect to the Bitcoin network.
Bitcoin is the first decentralized global payments network, perhaps superior to fiat money since it cannot be printed at will and users have full control of their funds, and it cannot be frozen or reversed. With the launch of the Blockstream Satellites, Bitcoin is now even more decentralized, and would still function even if ground-based internet is cut off. Indeed, due to the Blockstream Satellites, Bitcoin could very well be the only payment network on Earth that would still be self-sufficient in the event of a disruption in the global electricity or internet grid.
Further, a satellite network can be used to send messages globally via the Bitcoin Lightning Network. For a tiny fee, anyone in the world can broadcast an immutable message to the rest of the planet, showing that Bitcoin can also be the basis for a global decentralized communication system, aside from already being the top global decentralized payment system. Also, developers can create decentralized apps (Dapps) with global coverage via the satellite network.
The Blockstream Satellites are not the only blockchain-based satellites. SpaceChain has launched two satellites into space so far, both of which are running nodes on the Qtum blockchain. The goal of SpaceChain is to create a mesh network of blockchain-based micro-satellites with global coverage, facilitating a decentralized network of cryptocurrency exchanges, data storage, peer-to-peer encrypted messages, a global sensor array, and smart contracts operating from space. Ultimately SpaceChain wants to create an open-source network that will be accessible to all future space infrastructure.
Another interesting blockchain-based space company is SpaceBit, which tokenizes commercial space missions so that anyone could invest in and participate in space missions. Essentially, each particular space mission that SpaceBit launches is funded via a token sale. So far SpaceBit has managed to launch several CubeSat projects, as well as the launch of a nano-satellite via a SpaceX rocket. SpaceBit shows that blockchain-based ventures funded with cryptocurrency token sales can directly interlink with major space companies like SpaceX.
Zooming out to the bigger picture, reliable blockchain-based decentralized networks are exactly what the space exploration industry needs. It would be cumbersome and potentially dangerous for space exploration missions to rely on centralized networks, since they always have a single point of failure, and a network failure while exploring space can lead to the loss of a spacecraft or even death if astronauts are on board.
The fledgling blockchain-based networks Blockstream and SpaceChain have the potential to provide open source and reliable internet access to space missions, and since these networks are decentralized, there is a lower risk for a corporate entity or government to endanger other space missions that they are competing with.
This is perhaps a vision of the future, where decentralized blockchain-based networks in space will be essential to ensure fairness and safety, due to corporations and governments competing to take over all the moons and planets within reach. Blockchain is the obvious choice in such a future since the blockchain is immutable, decentralized, and encrypted.
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