Space Exploration and Blockchains

Launching a rocket into space is a complex business. It is as they say – rocket science. However, rocket science is not the only thing that needs to be taken into consideration when planning a space mission. A space mission is one of the largest and most costly logistical operations mankind is capable of. Behind every space mission is a long chain of contractors and companies all of which must work in harmony together to avoid costly delays or devastating failures.

The supply chain behind a spacecraft is huge. It starts off with the sourcing of the raw materials such as rare earth metals for the electronics and titanium for its frame. The materials are sent from the miners and refineries via distributors to the manufacturers. At this stage they are turned into the various component pieces of the space shuttle such as nose cones, steering fins etc…. Once manufactured the parts are sent to a facility where they are assembled into the final product, which is tested and finally launched. Every company, person and piece of material in this process is a link within the spacecrafts supply chain.

The Apollo program cost an estimated $25.4 billion US dollars in 1973 which represents in today’s money approximately $107 billion. At its peak the Apollo program employed over 400,000 people. With today’s scientific advances and new technology, it is estimated the cost of returning to the moon could be as low as $1 billion US dollars. Elon Musk via his company SpaceX seeks to get these costs even lower using reusable rockets. But costs could be further reduced by improvements to the supply chain. What better way to do this than by implementing a blockchain based solution?

The problem with space mission supply chains as with most supply chains is that they are costly, complicated and time consuming. To implement the fastest, cheapest and simplest launch the government or company overseeing it needs to reduce the distances between their supply chain links, for business interactions to be transparent and for the real time tracking of all the components involved in the launch.

Blockchain has already started to prove its worth in organising supply chains and could potentially speed up everything from the manufacturing process of rockets to the distribution and delivery of food for astronauts and their space suits.

A series of well implemented smart contracts automatically executing on a blockchain can help make supply chains vastly more transparent, faster and more cost efficient.

NASA is experimenting with blockchain related technology and in the future, we hope to see shortening and strengthening of their supply chains. NASA is at this time implementing blockchain based solutions to improve “cognitive networking and computing infrastructure.” when it comes to deep space missions. Their aim is to make better data driven decisions for autonomous space probes. Once these technologies are fully implemented we will see the cost of space missions greatly reduced bringing great benefits to the wider economy and making space more accessible.

According to The Space Foundation, in 2016, the global space economy totalled $329 billion worldwide. The increase from $323 billion in 2015 was due to growth in commercial space sectors, with negligible declines in non-U.S. government and U.S. government budgets.

Totalling $253 billion, commercial space activities made up 76 percent of the global space economy. The U.S. government spent $44 billion on defence and non-defence space projects in 2016, a 0.3 percent decrease from 2015.

With such large and ever-growing revenues from space-based industries it is not just the likes of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and NASA that are seeking to take advantage of blockchain technology. There are some interesting new start-ups using blockchain in space worth a mention too.

Nexus is a cryptocurrency and blockchain enterprise that has partnered with BitSpace, a tech company that focuses on blockchain and exponential technology. Together they are focusing on bringing decentralized internet access and opportunities to people around the world using satellite technology.

Space Decentral is a start-up based in Singapore and a decentralized autonomous organization. It is based on the principle that the cosmos need not be the exclusive playground of large corporations and superpowers. Whilst their plans remain vague they wish to democratise the cosmos. Through crowdfunding and crowdsourcing they wish to create a supra-national space agency for the people, by the people. Their first decentralized space program is named Coral and is led by four former NASA employees. Its primary aim is to facilitate 3D printing structures on the moon for an eventual moon base.

SpaceChain is a start-up that is less about space exploration and more focused on using the existing infrastructure to improve the blockchain experience. SpaceChain is building the first open source satellite network that runs on blockchain nodes. Their project runs on “cheap” CubeSat technology. They hope their open source operating system will become a blockchain sandbox for potential space blockchain developers. They state on their Medium post:

“The satellites are used as blockchain nodes for data processing, transmission, in-space data storage and application development. SpaceChain also integrates with Qtum to provide the basic service API for smart contracts and blockchain application.”

Blockstream are building a blockchain system that is powered by satellites. It aims to beam blockchain technology to every person on the planet who has a simple satellite setup. Their FAQ states:

“Anyone can receive the signal with a small satellite dish (similar to a consumer satellite TV dish) and a USB SDR (software-defined radio) interface […] The total equipment cost for a user is only about $100. The software is free. The software interface is the open-source GNU Radio software, which is the receiver. GNU Radio will send data to the FIBRE protocol, which is the Bitcoin process and is where the blocks reside.”

How much blockchain will affect and improve space exploration remains to be seen. However, these exciting blockchain start-ups and implementations can only help bring blockchain more into the mainstream. The space industry is in its infancy just like Blockchain. Crypto looks set to help us explore the final frontier.

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