ConsenSys isn’t the first to consider blockchain in space, but it seems poised to be the one to make it take off by acquiring Planetary Resources.
This has been a golden age for space startups, or as some call it “astropreneurship.” Dozens of nanosatellite startups have entered the fray, and SpaceX has outpaced NASA in terms of its rocket development to ferry those entrepreneurial probes into orbit. Next year, SpaceIL, an entrant from the Lunar X-Prize competition, plans to put the first private spacecraft in human history on the Moon. Several other former entrants to the competition that inspired SpaceIL — including Moon Express and Astrobotic — also present space as a realistic commercial option for new businesses.
Space Chain, a Chinese project working through the Qtum network, made its debut earlier this year planning to use blockchain to manage a network of small satellites that previously operated only on their own. Through use of their token (SPC), satellites can rent space for communications. In conjunction with their own satellite-specific operating system, they see a way to encourage satellite app development and new uses for such probes via those apps. It would parallel the explosion of apps when smartphones allowed new uses for mobile.
ConsenSys seems to be betting big they can do the same thing and more. Already having over $50 million in venture funding with investors like Space Angels, OS Ventures, and Tencent, one could reasonably assume the price tag here was far north of $500 million if not close to $1 billion. Planetary Resources is a an interesting launchpad for that, since their end game is to encourage the robotic mining of asteroids. Harvesting the material in so-called “near-Earth asteroids” (or NEAs, which are outside the main Asteroid Belt) would get expensive. Evidently, ConsenSys sees a major business opportunity in making blockchain a fundamental part of the infrastructure used to facilitate that business and space ventures a little closer to home, expected to grow immensely in the next few years.
If space-based commercial activity does indeed expand — and it is projected to go from $360 billion to $558 billion by 2026 — it would mean a lot for the blockchain and crypto world if one of the industry’s pioneering companies were to compel customers to use blockchain infrastructure.
As Planetary Resources General Counsel Brian Israel put it, “Ethereum smart contract functionality is a natural solution for private-ordering and commerce in space…in which a diverse range of actors from a growing number of countries must coordinate and transact.”
Rather than fighting to transition companies off of legacy infrastructure, the entryway into space commerce would have to flow through a blockchain conduit. For the growing list of companies planning to do business out there, this would lay the foundations for blockchain as the legacy infrastructure for off-planet industry.
Of course, any company with their eyes set on space would realistically start small, meaning Planetary Resources would have to build more local satellites or units before precision-mining ops on NEAs. They have done just that with their own band of satellites capable of monitoring agriculture, like several other companies in the industry.
There is no need to assume smart contracts through ConsenSys and Planetary Resources would have to wait for an order of asteroid ore. Even between near-Earth observation missions and venturing out past Mars, there are plenty of ideas for making a buck. Just as Moon Express is venturing to do, ConsenSys’ new acquisition could feasibly launch a lunar business, ferrying soil samples and even Helium-3 back to Earth.
What separates an acquisition like this from any other ConsenSys could have facilitated is the company’s clear foray into the wider technology and startup scene. This is a major acquisition, buying out one of the few indisputably influential space startups that have broken out in the last decade.
That makes ConsenSys much more than a blockchain venture now. They are now officially in the space business. They aren’t just planning to run the payments infrastructure, but eventually manage the entire extraterrestrial mining, extraction, and delivery process for Planetary Resources. In the meantime, they get to see how to apply blockchain to space-based data, such as imaging from the hundreds of nanosatellites that have reached orbit in the last few years.
That likely raises the stakes for other ambitious blockchain companies to expand their reach into different industries, making blockchain a staple of payments and data management in a number of verticals. This might just prompt other major decentralized ledger projects to look for big-time conduits to use blockchain technology, with space just being one of the new frontiers.
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