Ondrej Sarnecký

@ondrejsarnecky

Transforming Space Industry with Blockchain Technology

We stand on the brink of the new space race, not fuelled by the Cold War between superpowers, but by competing private companies. It’s an unbelievably fascinating and extremely important event on which clings the future of our society, civilisation and planet as a whole. In today’s age space is closer and more open to us than ever before, thanks to the herculean effort of several private companies. The question today is whether there is a place in this race for small, independent companies and start-ups without multi-million budgets and what options they have.

unsplash.com @nasa

The advent of the internet as a medium for instant sharing and spreading of information in real-time, as well as a way of collaboration on specific tasks without geographical/political restrictions gives us unique opportunity to participate on the future discoveries of our age. Just one example: the spread of the document “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”. Marshall T. Savage in his book “The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps”, (first printed in 1992, again reprinted in 1994 with foreword from Arthur C.Clarke introduced a vision of cooperation in the form of “human laser” — “a group of people working in synchronic harmony, creating a coherent beam of intention”. Such a “human laser” was responsible for the spread of the blockchain technology, which is our entry ticket towards the next epoch of human civilisation.

By utilizing the concept of “The human laser” in the fields of science and technology and application of the decentralization principles together with new crypto-economic models will allow everyone interested to participate in the new space race and other interesting projects globally, without any constraints previously encountered in global projects.

Combining the potential of the Blockchain technology with the current scientific resources could inspire more people to participate on the joint effort of conquering space. By implementing the principles of decentralization, we can exploit the dynamics of the crypto-economics and privatefunding within emerging scientific and commercial projects aimed to accelerate the exploration of space.

3 main challenges in front of which we stand:

1. Exploitation of space to create new business opportunities and markets
2. Improve the global availability of space industry and help smaller companies to be more competitive on the market
3. To accelerate the process of exploration and use of cosmos

Be it national or private companies, each of them struggle with issues that dampens their potential. It can be either limited funding or a clash of interests, the common problem is the lack of qualified staff and enormous operating costs.

Nowadays the international space industry suffers from two main issues, which prevents the development of this industry as a whole:

1. Security issues, mostly present among countries
2. Interests between private and national companies

The first problem is the concern of diplomatic relations and cooperation supported by the leaders of the countries. The second problem is being addressed by the development of open-source technologies in the commercial sector and in scientific communities. Space technologies were always inaccessible and protected from the public. Space exploration and technology industry is very difficult to be entered by the new subjects, be it companies, organisations or scientific communities. Whole industry revolves around the biggest “players”, and it’s very hard for anybody else to chip in, mostly because of the enormous operating costs of such projects. Nowadays it is impossible to create a software for such an application in the low-cost, or “start-up” way. My humble opinion is that start-ups in cosmic industry are little more than sci-fi, not to mention an absolute lack of talents and specialized staff.

Today most space projects are managed and/or financed by governments. These project are more often than not influenced by their interests and new research or technological innovations are limited by low budget.

New ways of financing the emerging space projects

At the dawn of the age of the internet companies and something that we know today as internet start-ups, emerging companies worked (and still work) on the basis of the traditional Venture Capital model. Most of the time a company is in the ownership of the founders and members of the working team owns shares of the company, which motivates them to work as best as they can. Thanks to the VC model, creativity and innovative projects could emerge, but that alone isn’t a guarantee of success.

On the other hand, long-term projects which require larger funding of research and development, like space exploration projects, aren’t best-suited to be funded by the VC model. Many technologies supported by VC models would be marked as not-working, as they require far more time and capital investments to be successful and to fulfil market expectations. As an example, we can use the traditional research & development process of satellites, which can take a lot of years. Once the financing is ready, it takes a lot of time (even years) to finish the R&D, but teams can request additional funding of further phases only when they release the technologies on the market.

Fundraising in the form of tokens, or more precisely as an ICO model (Initial Coin offering) presents a progressive way of financing new projects or ongoing projects. With enough funds project can gather the best talents, improve the overall effectiveness and flexibility of business and focus more on the long-term R&D. This is exceedingly in case of space technologies, where initial setbacks are expected and a large portion of funds must be allocated to R&D. Traditional VC funding isn’t willing to accept such risks, that’s why new models of crypto-economic funding are to be considered. The big advantage of crypto-economic funding models is the possibility of utilizing smart contracts as a way of releasing and distributing funds. Implementing smart contracts will allow us to improve the management of funds and also increases the trust of investors, as utilizing this technology also allows us to precisely set vesting and release of funds based on the set roadmap and planning.

Innovations of architectures & DSM

The blockchain technology and its advantages didn’t escape the attention of NASA and other space agencies, such as ESA, which considers its application in their own innovations of applications and architecture. Exploiting the blockchain technology has a huge potential in case of DSM (Distributed spacecraft mission), which can be imagined as “relaying” or coordinated joint mission among several spacecrafts. According to NASA, artificial intelligence (A.I.), together with the blockchain technology could be widely to create “space-based sensor networks” and its efficient management.

ESA does not lag behind and several months ago has released a survey of using the blockchain technology within their ongoing and future missions. It has also released a PDF presentation as a summary of the basis of the blockchain technology together with examples of its utilization within ESA. The document is dedicated mostly to faster and efficient payments together with smart contract applications, which simplifies the process of public procurement, audit process, record keeping, traceability of data, access rights or voting. It’s worth to mention in contrast to NASA, ESA doesn’t mention the direct application of the blockchain technology in flight software architecture or examples of application, such as aforementioned DSM.

Examples of utilizing the blockchain technology in space industry

While at present there is a great deal of attention aimed on fintech field and cryptocurrencies, a considerable potential of these technologies lies in the innovation of the space industry, such as important mission data validation, the use of smart contracts for smart procurement the goal to optimize supply chain and information management, where applications could range from virtual spacecraft (configuration and consistency check) to communication management (hardware and documentation). As there is no real concept or proof-of-work architecture yet, this is all just a speculation and theory. It doesn’t mean though that it’s a sci-fi. My personal belief is that this technology has a huge potential to help future space start-ups to enter space industry market and especially in R&D of first commercial, open-source space applications.

Below I shall set out three ideas of utilizing blockchain technologies in the development of space industry, taken from the presentation for Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA).

1. Basic Imaging Operations

  • User enters image request, location and timeframe via blockchain entry
  • Assets provide availability which includes overflight times, inview times for ground stations and prescheduled conflicts
  • First available asset schedules image time and downlink time as needed
  • Operation errors, outages etc. are recorded on blockchain
  • Completion time, downlink time to ground station and successful publishing of data to user specified location are documented in blockchain.
Bitcoin, Blockchains and Efficient Distributed Spacecraft Mission Control NASA Dan Mandl Code 581

2. Smart Contracts and Managed Campaigns

  • Users submit smart contract to complete a series of images with conditions (e.g. weekly diurnal over a growing season spectral measurements to create time series)
  • Assets self-schedule and route data and data products according to users depending on data rights
  • Users provide backup imaging plans when assets are out of commission or failures occur
  • Users provide time constraints and locations desired
  • Audit trail of completed imaging operations with successes and failures documented in blockchain
Bitcoin, Blockchains and Efficient Distributed Spacecraft Mission Control NASA Dan Mandl Code 581

3. Smart Contracts, Machine Learning to Optimize Constellation

Users submit smart contract to complete a series of images with conditions (e.g. weekly diurnal over a growing season spectral measurements to create time series)

  • Assets self-schedule and route data and data products according to users depending on data rights
  • Machine learning allocated Constellation resources based on learned methods to optimize image output and minimize cost to user
  • Users provide time constraints and locations desired
  • Audit trail of completed imaging operations with successes and failures documented in blockchain • Machine learning uses audit trail to continuously learn and improve
    E.g Experiment being conducted (Ichoku, Mackinnon, Mandl et al) to observe fires and recognize their radiative type from any angle similar to recognizing a face at any angle.

Steps we can take to brighter future of space industry

I must admit that this topic is my soft spot for as long as I remember. I consider my deep immersion in the blockchain technology as a great opportunity to also get involved in this field. Even though the blockchain technology is still not very recognized and widespread (despite it exists for 10 years now), I see this as a “silence before the storm”, in the form of looking for opportunities. I also consider implementing the blockchain technology into space industry as a great investment opportunity. There exists a lot of infographics where the blockchain is described as a gamechanger in several industries, but none of them mentions the space industry, even though NASA or ESA called for submitting proposals of utilizing these technologies. Initiatives are being created, such as Space Decentral, for crowdfunding future space activities and research, but this is still Terra Incognita for public.

I personally see a big value in getting research and experimental projects together under platforms such as Space Decentral. Crypto-economic models and the implementation of the DAO concept (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) are in my opinion a great way of long-term project financing, which aren’t expected to be profitable in short-term, and which are deemed useless by VC, although they can be useful.

Concepts with specific, commercial products are a different chapter altogether. The same way SpaceX reduces the costs of getting cargo to space by utilizing reusable rockets, the blockchain technology can help us reduce costs of developing software and its testing.

Another possible future concept is also a concept of software space station. Even though it’s a very abstract image, it can present specific, swarm array of equipment, for example CubeSats in orbit, working as a network of components, sensors, cameras and analysers with allocated public access through blockchain for the public, universities and private development companies as a platform for developing their own software or space applications. This field is exactly where I would like to get in my future blockchain projects.

Conclusion

Although the space industry today is controlled by billionaire tycoons, I believe there is a room there for every one of us. The age of first Mars flights, Moon bases and private space stations is upon us. It’s a big space for new enterprises and business opportunities. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. Even though beginnings in this industry is profoundly difficult, utilizing the new ways of fundraising and financing allows us to achieve greater efficiency with managing funds and company transparency, which vastly increases the trust of the investors, not to speak about exploiting the token dynamics implemented to the infrastructure.

I believe that what I’ve described in this article is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can expect in the future. The blockchain technology has so far presented just one “killer app”, which is the cryptocurrencies.

We have to consider this: We are still on the beginning, and it only depends on our imagination and creativity how much we contribute to better future.

Resources:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016328709000755?via%3Dihub
https://sensorweb.nasa.gov/Bitcoin%20Blockchains%20and%20Distributed%20Satellite%20Management%20Control%209-15-17v12.pdf
https://sed.gsfc.nasa.gov/tech_products/580/dsm/
https://sed.gsfc.nasa.gov/tech_products/580/
http://www.esa.int/About_Us/Digital_Agenda/Beyond_Bitcoin_Leveraging_the_Blockchain_for_Space_4.0

https://spacechain.com/SpaceChain-0319-1.0-EN.pdf
http://esamultimedia.esa.int/docs/corporate/Distributed_Ledger_Technology_Leveraging_Blockchain_for_ESA_s_Success_Final_Annex.pdf
http://www.esa.int/About_Us/Ministerial_Council_2016/Moon_Village

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