Satellites and Blockchain

Blockstream announced in its blog the launch of what seems to be the first satellite-based Blockchain technology. For those of you who don’t know about Blockstream, this company offers Bitcoin-related services with a special interest on sidechains.

Its Blockstream Satellite service distributes bitcoin blocks in real time, making it possible to verify transactions remotely without a direct connexion to Internet by using satellite receivers instead.

These kinds of projects are interesting since they would allow for transactions to occur in places where means of communication or Internet access are being censored.

However, as one Reddit user pointed out, Blockstream hasn’t launched its own satellites but instead they’re renting bandwidth from commercial communication satellites. This way, the satellite isn’t running any bitcoin node, but acting as an antenna bouncing signals back and forth Earth.

These kinds of services are common on the satellite communication industry. Big companies rent a percentage of their bandwidth and satellites act as big passive space antennas. This way, that signal could cover a significant part of the globe (these commercial satellites usually have antennas pointing towards high demand areas).

This image is a screenshot of their page. As you can see, they’re using three geostationary satellites: Galaxy 18, Eutelsat 113, Telstar 11N, which are operated by three different companies (Intersal, Eutelsat, and Telesat), so they can cover Africa, Europe, and North and South America. (These satellites remain on a static position over the equator.)

The plan to build a constellation of satellites that DO run bitcoin full-nodes on space

In 2014, Jeff Garzik (a Bitcoin Core developer) sent out a petition to his list of email subscribers asking for support to start project BitSat.
The goal was to build a constellation of satellites running Bitcon nodes through his company Dunvegan Space System (DSS).

Unlike the previous system, processing would be done in orbit and they would be able to provide more resilience to the network, aside from contributing to Jeff’s statement towards public blockchains.

Soon after, we discovered that DSS was planning on collaborating with Deep Space Industries (DSI) to make their project a reality. DSI is an asteroid mining start-up and the goal was to make use of their knowledge and primarily, their knowledge on small satellite technologies for BitSat to launch.

DSS and DSI agreed to build 24 satellites. The project progressed substantially and they even made the final pre-design plans of the satellite in pdf format (“final” as in the last stage of its phase B with a Preliminary Design Review).

Looking to maintain the open source mentality around the design software concept of Garzik’s company, the concept design of the satellite was open to quite a detailed level. The design is based on cubesat concept/standard, which implies adding 10x10x10 modules to build smaller satellites.

Finally, it was decided that a common configuration called 3U (three cube unit) would be used, meaning a satellite 10 cm long, 10 cm wide, and 30 cm tall, with loaded FPGAs to run the node. Unlike the satellites from the previous project, these ones would orbit at a lower altitude, thus moving faster around the Earth and providing global coverage thanks to their number.

Even though the DSS twitter account keeps being updated, we have no news from the project. It is entirely possible that the project could have been cancelled.

Beyond Bitcoin, for a sharing space economy based on blockchain

When we talk about blockchain, our imagination goes wild and we come out with thousands of applications to hybridize anything with blockchain. Most of the potential of our era is on technological convergence, so why not blockchain and satellites?

There’s a bunch of ideas about establishing interplanetary cryptocurrencies and the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has proposed using blockchain as a tool to register space property. Both applications with similar uses to what we do on Earth.

There are projects intended to extend the reach of alt-coins, including the case of SpaceBelt Alliance, a company that wants to develop cloud storage in space using SolarCoin to store the transactions in orbit in a similar way than Bitsat.

Personally, the initiative that caught my attention the most was Carsten Stöcker's, member of Innogy SE, a German consulting company . His proposal is to take advantage of the price drop and development of spatial technology in recent years to allow for new players to participate in space economy.

In the space sector – as in many others – democratization is becoming quite a popular topic of conversation. An absolute plan for democratization could begin by using space systems through smart contracts.

Imagine you could control a satellite during a period of time for whatever use you wanted through a specific set of rules and fees with Ethereum. Or a system in which certain communities could run their own ICOs to develop the monitoring systems they need.

Some years ago, the crowdfunding campaign that rose the highest amount of capital that I’ve ever seen was the Planetary Resources project to develop and launch a telescope to take “space selfies” (at the end the project was cancelled and the money was refunded). So imagine how much interest we can gather for future projects even if we had to use such banal excuses.

This blockchain-based democratized space economy has many possibilities that we can’t even yet imagine. And it could have implications on many levels; associations, small companies, research groups, casual users, etc.

Ready to develop this idea!

Now we just need ideas and hard work. Please let me know in the comments what you think of these projects. If you have any ideas yourself, the California Space Center launched the Copernic project last year to accelerate space-oriented enterprises based on blockchain.

If your idea is good, you can count on me to help with your project. Just don’t ask me why all space projects are named after Copernicus.

Source of the Images: Blockstream (1, 2), Dunvegan Space Systems (3, 4)

This article is a translation from the original in Spanish

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