Blockchaining Space and Spacing Blockchain — New Trends, New Disruptions
Outer space is not oblivious to blockchain, and neither is blockchain oblivious to outer space. Quite the contrary, both of them are intrinsically connected in more ways than thought at first.
February 14, 2017
Blockchain, the technology behind the (in)famous Bitcoin, is lauded by many as the next big thing: despite still being in its infancy, this technology promises to bring a full new set of opportunities not only with relation to the financial sector, but also for government, health, insurance, energy, telecoms, Internet of Things (IoT), among others. Blockchain is a distributed ledger that can be used for many purposes such as property registries, electronic voting, tax collection, identification and tracking of records and assets transfer, and smart contracts. Blockchain can further be used as a tool for governments to more efficiently exercise their governance, supervision and oversight roles. Indeed, blockchain brings several benefits in terms of quicker execution of transactions, increased data storage (as a result of shared computing power), security (as there is no single point of failure), integrity (as a result of the immutability of data in ledgers with such features), transparency, and resilience. It has been considered that blockchain will bring a new era of trust in a society that is becoming increasingly collaborative, shared, autonomous and connected.
It so happens that outer space is not oblivious to blockchain, and neither is blockchain oblivious to outer space. Quite the contrary, both of them are intrinsically connected in more ways than thought at first.
One of the items blockchain can play an important role in space relates with cybersecurity. Indeed, DARPA itself is studying the use of blockchain for securing, among others, military satellites in light of its potential in this area including for tracking attempted data breaches. Moreover, given the IoT applications of blockchain, it is not unreasonable to think that this technology could also be used in facilitating the tracking, command and control of satellites (especially new ones to be launched where this technology could be incorporated), which would themselves, then, be smart emancipated devices. In addition, blockchain is already showing its potential in the processing of Big Data, which would also have invaluable importance in outer space activities, including in satellite remote sensing imagery.
Given that blockchain is also relevant for the exercise of government functions, resorting to this technology within the state’s international obligations of authorizing and monitoring space activities could also be considered. In this respect, note should be taken that the increasing privatization of space activities, together with the development of small satellites constellations, requires a new more flexible approach to the relationship between privates and the state, and blockchain can help in that goal by increasing transparency, trust and efficiency.
Another interesting area where blockchain can play a role relates with space mining — blockchain can be used to register and track transactions of space resources being explored and used, thus facilitating their identification, tracking and management. This, on its turn, will contribute to guaranteeing that the benefits from such resources can be shared by all, very much in alignment with international space principles enshrined in the Outer Space Treaty (and in the Moon Agreement) and, also, with the shared, collaborative and solidary society that seems to be developing. In addition, it has already been noted that the blockchain itself can be an important building block of the space economy, including in future space colonies, as blockchain could be used for their own decentralized autonomous administration and, even, for the development and use of space crypto currencies.
But, in addition, outer space seems to be playing also an instrumental part in the development of blockchain-based assets and items. From placing bitcoin-mining-servers in orbit to using satellites to receive and broadcast the blockchain transactions, outer space may very well become a vital part of the blockchain revolution. It is also important to point out that satellite enabled communications/internet access are essential tools for effectively using blockchain-enabled services and products, especially in large parts of the developing world where satellite communications are crucial in rural and underserved locations. In this scope and in addition, satellites can play an important role in promoting financial inclusion such as through facilitating the use of cryptocurrencies and of blockchain-enabled payments and remittances.
Blockchain, however, is not a miracle pill. What is more, its huge potential still requires continuous work to address some of its roadblocks, such as privacy, security and scalability (as well as standardization and interoperability in the case of multiplication of private ledgers and their use e.g. in IoT). But, just as the private sector is actively investing in this technology and governments are looking at how they should promote its development, regulate it and/or use it, the space community cannot overlook the benefits and the impact that blockchain can bring to very much all areas of space activities, products and services. VS