Guest Post by Fernando Sanchez
Oh my God…it’s full of stars!
Thus spoke astronaut Dave Bowman, the last surviving crew member of the ill-fated Discovery One spaceship, moments before entering the stargate in the 1968 sci-fi classic 2001: A space odyssey. These eternal words, spoken in the novelized version only, hint at a vast new universe where human beings become something else, something entirely and eternally new. Hold on to that concept for now.
People began hearing the word blockchain circa 2008. Over ten years ago now, but barely a drop in the boundless stream of time. This nascent technology soon planted its terrestrial roots and spread around many industrial sectors. These roots are now deeply entrenched, and while blockchain has become somewhat of an overused buzzword across certain quarters, the technology is sound. Blockchain is slowly coming of age, so it is time for it to start looking skywards and reach for the stars.
Houston, we have blockchain: Decentralized technology breaking earthly bounds
As of 2019, spacefaring remains an expensive and very -very- risky enterprise. Several high-profile disasters, such as the loss of the Challenger and Columbia shuttles in 1986 and 2003 respectively, served as stark reminders that venturing into space can be a life or death situation with potentially disastrous consequences. Nevertheless, the space race continues, and several projects currently in development aim to send a manned mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s.
Whether such mission does come to lift-off within the planned timeframe remains to be seen, but space-related projects based on more feasible achievements are already underway through blockchain technology.
Blockchain tech has already proved its viability down here on Earth. It started off as the engine that powered the development of cryptocurrencies, before evolving into something far more versatile. Industries such as entertainment, supply chain, medical, airlines, banking, and many other sectors have already seen the advantages that a blockchain platform can afford.
Blockchain’s main raison d’etre is decentralization. The disruption of the status quo through transparency and fairness. And the potential applications of this technology for space-related industries are as vast as space itself.
Space: The new frontier for entrepreneurship
Space is a huge expanse full of stars, worlds, nebulae, black holes, and probably myriad civilizations that we just have not been able to discover yet. The final frontier, as some say, and blockchain technology is ready and poised to take mankind where it has never gone before.
But let’s roll back the dice of time sixty off years. Back then, the issue of space exploration was firmly in the hands of the superpowers of the era. The United States and the then Soviet Union scrambled to put a man into space. The Soviets won, as Yuri Gagarin completed one full orbit around Planet Earth on the Vostok capsule on April 12, 1961, though the Americans did manage to put the first human on the Moon.
NASA in the United States, Roscosmos in Russia, and the European Space Agency (ESA) were for a long time the main players in the worldwide space industry. In other words, this sector was hugely centralized, and to an extent, monopolized. This monopoly was somewhat justified due to the astronomical cost of space-related R&D, which only government-sponsored agencies could afford to bear. But recent technological developments have enabled smaller companies to become active players in the space field. The name of this holy grail? Blockchain, of course.
Blockchain tech has given many entrepreneurial minds something that established names like NASA did not: An opportunity to thrive and develop their ideas. Blockchain opened a gateway for the creation of value, to find new ways to do business, paving the way to the stars, quite literally in this case.
Practical applications of blockchain in space: Satellite communication, online shopping, and everything in between
Cueing back to present day, blockchain has enabled two key aspects: The democratization and decentralization of space.
But one question remains. Who exactly owns space, and who is entitled to do business up there? A number of international treaties signed in the 1960s intended space to be ‘humankind’ property. In other words, no one nation could claim a unique stake in it, no matter how many flagpoles were erected on the Moon or elsewhere. This, while certainly a fair and romantic notion, is far from the cold financial reality. Space is open for business, and anyone who can afford to put a spacecraft in orbit is likely to claim ownership of at least a small patch of vacuum. Fortunately, there are plenty patches up for grabs.
And this is where blockchain comes in. The decentralization power of this technology is perfectly suited for the needs of a sprawling orbital network of satellites, for example. But this network would generate a gargantuan amount of data, which would need to be analyzed and processed. Blockchain would provide a secure, transparent, and decentralized infrastructure to support data processing.
Data processing and sharing is an interesting aspect of blockchain, particularly when applied to spacefaring. Long journeys, such as the planned manned mission to Mars, would generate and use large datasets. There currently is little or no satellite coverage on Mars, but future blockchain-powered networks could provide essential navigation information, for instance. And the possibilities go far beyond the confines of our own world. Blockchain could indeed become the fulcrum upon which rest the data sharing facilities on Mars’ surface, should a permanent human colony ever be established there.
Crypto-economy across the Solar System, and what lies beyond
Blockchain started life as the driving force behind cryptocurrencies. It has steadily evolved into something much more complex and far-reaching, and the next natural evolutionary step aims to conquer space.
The current economic framework here on Earth is largely driven by banks, which have enjoyed a hitherto uncontested hegemony on the financial realm. Not so anymore. The emergence of cryptocurrencies has defied the bank’s former monopoly of wealth, and by extension, economic activity.
The global turnover for the space economy grew from just over $216bn in 2009, to over $410bn in 2018. This figure will only keep growing as more players become involved in the space race. Well-known names such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic both already operate space-faring craft, for example.
Using blockchain beyond Earth’s boundaries gives rise to an interesting proposition: The creation of a crypto-economy in space. Free of banks’ shackles, an economic system powered by blockchain would flourish. Satellites placed at strategic points along a given route could be used to carry out transactions by passing spacecraft. Payment of salaries, online shopping, and other amenities, could be available onboard thanks to the power of blockchain.
Blockchain technology recently turned a decade old, so it’s still relatively in its infancy. To put this into perspective, telephone technology has been around for about 140 years. In other words, there is no telling what blockchain can do at this point.
The democratization of space economy is worth the entry price alone, but alongside blockchain’s other traits such as transparency, speed, and security, make it the perfect candidate to become a pioneering endeavor for the benefit of all mankind.
The future is indeed full of stars.
This article was originally written and published on Blockchain.news in October 2019.