Cryptocurrency, blockchain, and decentralized data are all buzzwords we’ve seen floating around in recent years, but the technology is so new that it’s hard to see direct applications in our lives, even in space exploration. . But blockchain and space have more links than you think.
These concepts all describe a different way of storing data, a decentralized way (which means that it uses a shared database), transparent (which allows users to see changes in the database) and secure. In this type of system, users have copies of the data and, since the data in a blockchain is stored with cryptographic algorithms, the blockchain is difficult to hack.
Although the most popular use of cryptocurrency was in the financial industry, other applications for which it was used could be applied for space. One of these possible applications is in supply chains, where they could be used to track resources during space mining or to manage large space construction projects. Another use of this type could be with energy to store and control the production and consumption of energy by space systems, Helena Correia Mendonça, principal consultant of the Portuguese law firm Vieira de Almeida, which studies blockchain, said in an email to Space.com.
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“The space sector can also make an important contribution to the development and wider use of the blockchain, in particular by using satellites as nodes in the chain – either as participating nodes which store data, or by validating nodes which validate and add data “, Mendonça” In this case, you can use satellites to receive, store and broadcast data and blockchain applications. Therefore, satellite networks can be used as the infrastructure where you store data and through which you transact. “
While these possible uses are promising, the blockchain is actually already used in space. The first satellite to use the technology was Blockstream, a company that was launched in 2017 to distribute bitcoin (a cryptocurrency) worldwide. In terms of security, the blockchain was used for the first time in space by SpaceChain in 2018, Aravind Ravichandran, who studies the applications of blockchain and space for PricewaterhouseCoopers in France, said in an interview by email with Space.com. The SpaceChain satellite was designed for a satellite-based blockchain system that requires communication with a satellite to complete a transaction in the database.
“It was a fairly successful mission, as it formed the basis of SpaceChain, which intends to launch a constellation of satellites to support a blockchain-based operating system,” said Ravichandran.
A more spatial blockchain activity could also happen soon. Ravichandran highlighted the acquisition of Planetary Resources (an asteroid mining company) by ConsenSys (a large blockchain company) in 2018. This agreement, he said, “has caused major predictions, including my hand, that the blockchain will support the exploitation of asteroids using a process called “tokenization”, which is a way to digitize physical assets to store them on a blockchain database. “
After the acquisition, ConsenSys launched a subsidiary called ConsenSys Space, headed by Chris Lewicki, CEO of Planetary Resources. This subsidiary launched TruSat, a blockchain-based database that will monitor the orbital positions of satellites – which could be all the more crucial as large fleets of satellites launch under companies such as SpaceX and Amazon. More satellites will increase the risk of a collision, which could create orbital debris, said Ravichandran.
“Currently, there is no public [satellite] database, “said Ravichandran,” and the only one is owned by the US Air Force. Therefore, this database is quite crucial and the fact that it is decentralized provides a neutral and impartial place to obtain the positions of satellites in orbit. “
The blockchain industry is still emerging and all of its possible uses cannot be predicted, but Mendonca stressed that all space industries could benefit from it in applications such as financial technology, government satellite communications, broadcasting and Internet access, among others.
So far, Ravichandran is planning work in the field of satellite communication and is conducting feasibility studies with launcher and satellite manufacturing companies for monitoring and managing the supply chain. The European Space Agency also published a white paper in 2019 which discusses possible applications of blockchain in Earth observation while users share data with each other.
As the blockchain moves through space, Ravichandran stressed that its ability to symbolize spacecraft and payloads was the key to its success, which could help in future massive space projects such as the International Space Station collaborative Gateway NASA wants to build in lunar orbit.
He further explained that with blockchain, “you can commercialize space exploration faster and more efficiently. Tokenizing a spacecraft would allow different entities to build different components of the spacecraft, giving institutions like NASA and the ‘ESA [the European Space Agency] the ability to procure things efficiently, with much more transparency and traceability. “
Mendonca, however, warned that blockchain has associated regulatory issues that will need to be addressed first, including the nature of cryptocurrency tokens and how to implement data protection. That said, the European Union is one of the entities examining the legal issues of the blockchain, so it said it expected more clarity in the near future.