What if we told you that Bitcoin is the first usable currency from space? Science fiction or reality? The war over computer protocols has always raged, but this time around the battlefield spans space. In this article, you will understand what are the challenges of the diffusion of the Internet in space and why the blockchain must not miss the boat (or rather the rocket) if it wants to keep its multiple promises of decentralization and democratization of the world. access to capital.
In 2017, for the first time in history, the Bitcoin protocol (BTC) arrived in space thanks to the company Blockstream. Two years later, it also integrated the Lightning Network, a protocol allowing instant payments of the order of a few milliseconds in BTC. Thus strengthening the status of bitcoin as a universal and uncensored currency.
But before talking about the impact of blockchain in space, we must already understand the challenges of accessing the Internet from space.
Internet from space, what interest?
An uncensored infrastructure for earthlings
Today, the Internet has become an essential network used by millions of people on the planet. But the place of the Internet and social networks worries governments. The latter can block the Internet to silence the press or certain citizen organizations that would try, through digital technology, to defend their rights or fight against injustices.
But who controls the Internet?
In 2020, the main terrestrial Internet players are:
- The ISPs (Internet access providers) that everyone knows as a subscriber;
- Private companies (traditional telecommunications operators) that deploy and maintain infrastructure (such as submarine cables and antennas);
- The governments, which may at any time apply pressure on ISPs to cut the internet, as was the case in Egypt, for example. But also ask the telecommunications operators to access our telephone data;
- Less well known to the general public, two main bodies govern the Internet: ICANN (strong American presence) and W3C. ICANN has the fundamental power to block domain names. This has been the case with the Iraqi ” .iq ” and for Afghan domain names;
- And finally, the GAFAs, well known to the general public, offer applications and services (social networks, search engines, and referencing) on which billions of people around the world depend.
As you will understand, all the actors above can at any time “turn off the tap” in one way or another. If you do not feel any fear vis-à-vis that, it is because you have the chance to live in a country with more freedoms.
Among the 10 countries listed as ” enemies of the Internet ” by Reporters Without Borders are China, Burma, and Iran, which spy on Internet users. And among the 10 countries listed as ” under surveillance,” we can see Russia, Venezuela, and even France.
In Togo, the internet was cut for millions of citizens twice in September 2017 (for about 10 days). The objective was to disrupt the organization of citizen demonstrations. A historic decision was rendered on this subject by the court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) against the state of Togo on June 25, 2020, recognizing that it is indeed a violation of freedom of expression.
Russia was also condemned on a similar ground by the European Court.
We are moving towards a world where citizens regain control over information by relying less and less on traditional media, thanks to the Internet.
But if internet governance is not decentralized, then the problem is only shifting. If the Internet is censurable, then our freedoms are at risk. That’s why it’s no wonder that Bitcoin, the quintessential financial emancipation technology, is found in space.
This is also why making a public blockchain available in space, whose applications would be accessible anywhere in the world and whose governance would be truly decentralized, is not a fanciful idea, but undoubtedly the future of the blockchain.
Can we stream the Internet from space?
Yes, it is already possible. Access to the Internet via satellite is nothing new. On the other hand, this technology is not very democratized, because very high speed does not exist!
For simplicity, we consider two main categories of satellites: geostationary satellites and low orbit satellites.
The first category, geostationary satellites, have a fixed position in the sky and provide a low speed with a long transmission delay. These large satellites are located 36,000 km from Earth and their strong signal can be picked up over large areas. To cover the whole world, it would take at least three. On the other hand, there is no need for the common man to hope to stream, download HD movies, or synchronize a Bitcoin node (more than 65 gigabits) with this type of satellite.
Example of the operation of a conventional Internet provider using geostationary satellite. The latency (transmission delay) of this installation does not allow you to play online games, which require too much bandwidth.
Low Earth Orbit Satellites
Then we have a second category, low orbit satellites, which, conversely, can achieve very high speed. These satellites are smaller and cheaper to manufacture, their signal is less powerful, but this is not a problem, because they are closer to the Earth, which they fly over at about 550 km of altitude.
It is this second category that stimulates the race to disseminate the Internet from space that is currently being played out, as we will see with SpaceX.
SpaceX wants to become the largest private satellite operator
SpaceX, chaired for 18 years now by Gwynne Shotwell, created the constellation Starlink. With this project, SpaceX intends to provide high-speed Internet to the most isolated areas of the globe. To achieve this, SpaceX has already carried out numerous launches and requested licenses to be able to eventually deploy up to 42,000 satellites to satisfy its future “subscribers”. So this is just the start.
In addition to the problem of Internet censorship, there is the question of its access.
A new satellite Internet offer is being created and it targets a sizeable market because 50% of the world population does not have access to the Internet.
“50% of the world’s population does not have access to the Internet,” annual analysis by Mary Meeker, Le Figaro
Satellite Internet was not originally designed for a mass market. It was designed by governments and businesses to meet their needs. Typically to establish links in certain remote areas for military or business reasons.
However, with the new Starlink satellites, transmission speeds of up to 10 Gigas per second could be achieved, which is more than optical fiber. It is therefore a new era that could begin.
The race for subscribers! In addition to SpaceX with Starlink, we can also cite Amazon with Kuiper – which also has around a hundred job offers on its site – and OneWeb which, conversely, is experiencing great financial difficulties.
A special resonance in the post-covid era
The users initially targeted by this type of offer are of course people living in rural, desert, or ocean areas. But the Covid crisis will no doubt further accelerate this tendency for humans to move to less saturated areas.
We will therefore certainly have many people in search of a quieter life and who could voluntarily leave the cities while wishing to have an excellent Internet connection to telework, participate in conferences, do virtual reality, trade in cryptocurrency, manage their business online, etc. Satellite Internet may then become a matter of course.
What social impact on humans?
Without the Internet, no cryptocurrency
Some areas of the planet do not have access to the Internet (or part of the web) and this means a lack of access to information, social networks, online training, job search, etc…
Now with the arrival of blockchain applications, this also means a lack of access to cryptocurrency, to decentralized finance (micro-loan, micro-insurance, micro-investment, investment with interest), and therefore once again, to capital.
For some people, a majority we hope, the objective of decentralized finance is to promote inclusion and access to certain services for people usually excluded from the system, as we have seen with the ” banking the unbanked ” movement…
However, these new financial systems are created mainly by people who live in countries where access to electricity and the Internet is acquired. Thus, in the design of some solutions, they forget that some users will encounter their first obstacle not to ” how to secure my private key”, but rather to ” how to access the website or download the mobile application “. Especially if their navigation devices are not suitable or if their government can censor access to certain sites.
A satellite system is therefore an excellent first means of democratizing access to information for all citizens of the world, whether we live in France, but especially in China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Syria, or Tunisia.
If the finance sector is to experience a revolution, it seems essential that as many people as possible on the planet have access to it. Otherwise, blockchain technology would ultimately risk worsening the already deep inequalities in the world.
An economic and political model not easy to find
This vision is not easy to achieve, because the business models are still uncertain and the initial investment is very heavy. There are also many geopolitical considerations as we see with the example of OneWeb, accused of espionage.
OneWeb filed for bankruptcy a very short time ago in bankruptcy court in the United States, pointing to the Covid as the reason. A big blow for Arianespace and Airbus, which were very involved in the program. OneWeb had already deployed more than 70 satellites. But this company has had a difficult journey since 2014. Unlike SpaceX with the Falcon 9, OneWeb does not have its rockets.
OneWeb, therefore, used Soyuz rockets, which led to many complications with Russian officials. They feared the political impact that the provision of a high-speed Internet would have on populations usually excluded from the networks. The government had finally decided to adopt the Chinese model and took a 51% stake in the company to have control over this Internet from space. This had not stopped the Russian secret service from accusing OneWeb of espionage.
Head in the stars, but feet on the ground
The Internet from space is therefore above all-important financial issues, governance issues, and geopolitical games. In other words, a fertile ground for blockchain.
Monopolies are being created at high speed and there are many players in the race.
1. A paradox between modernization and maintaining power.
It is known that to maintain power over a population, it is necessary to be able to control its access to information (cf. the case of China and Russia). However, governments cannot restrict Internet access. For example, throughout the European zone of Russia, residents will be able to receive the signal from satellites deployed by neighboring countries without any problem.
2. An opportunity to reinvent the governance of space.
The blockchain philosophy can be interesting if it allows us to decentralize the management and exploitation of space resources. This makes it possible to bypass government agencies obsessed with espionage and therefore reluctant to collaborate between actors. Yet necessary for a project so ambitious and necessary for humanity.
3. The struggle of states against corporations.
The behavior of governments, through their inertia and indecision, leaves the door open to private companies whose interests are neither freedom nor national sovereignty, but profit and a desire to transform the world according to a certain vision. This is what we see with the superb breakthrough of SpaceX which makes its satellites take off with its rockets, and which will soon take care of the colonization of Mars. Between space tourism, high-speed internet for millions of people, and the Starship’s departure to Mars in 2025, SpaceX is developing a monopoly and could well become the Google of space.
The conquest of space must be in phase with our times. In 2020, could we not finance a program managed by a world federation made up of representatives of states, companies (small or large), and citizens’ associations? This would make it possible to avoid mistrust between countries and companies – and the resulting paranoia – but also to pool resources and knowledge – in an equitable framework – to go further.
The blockchain can be useful to us here because it allows us to create a new form of an organization called DAO. These decentralized and autonomous organizations can be the foundation of any type of human organization. The DAO minimizes the risk of internal corruption, allows the creation of real democracy, and by default provides transparency on its internal management to the general public.
A citizen DAO whose goal would be to finance the deployment and maintenance of an alternative network of satellites would be invaluable.
Another point of convergence between blockchain and space would quite simply be to make blockchain and its applications accessible by satellite.
Blockchain in space, what for?
Bitcoin is already circulating in space without the Internet
When we talk about putting the blockchain in space, we are not talking about the future, but the present. The Blockstream company broadcasts the Bitcoin blockchain to the entire planet via its satellite network.
How does it work? Blockstream has ” teleports”, earth stations that are connected to the Bitcoin network. They transmit the blocks of the chain to each other and geostationary satellites (remember, the category of large satellites with strong signal).
The six geostationary satellites used by Blockstream cover a large part of the planet:
Since 2019 Blockstream has integrated the technology of the company Lightning Network. Elizabeth Stark, CEO and co-founder of the company, explains that the technology allows for ” lightning-fast blockchain payments without worrying about block confirmation times.” ” It is, therefore, possible to make micro-payments in bitcoins around the world (and beyond) without a terrestrial Internet connection. Adam Back, CEO of Blockstream, says:
“People living in isolated places will have access to the Bitcoin network without going through terrestrial Internet operators, and at a lower cost. ”
Going through the Blockstream satellite network, therefore, allows access to the power of the Lightning network independently of traditional Internet providers. Blockstream offers users to receive the blocks for free and without charge for the connection. Internet access from space is also a more resilient way to communicate in the event of major disasters on earth that disrupt the traditional network.
How to get there? Anyone can access the Bitcoin blockchain with a simple receiver without needing to go through a traditional terrestrial internet operator.
If you want to have your Blockstream satellite receiver, it will cost you: $ 279.99 (basic) or $ 749.99 (pro). Which will need to be associated with an antenna to capture the signal that Blockstream offers at $ 179.99. All of their products are available for pre-order at the moment on their website.
You can also create your own inexpensively by following this tutorial. A classic TV dish will do very well as an antenna. You will also need a PC with Linux and some parts that you can purchase online.
However, this solution remains dependent on the Blockstream company, which in turn becomes a private operator. Will we see in the future the creation of the first decentralized Internet operator in the space?
In the following example, we will see that some communities have already started to explore the convergence between decentralization and space.
A more distributed governance of space
The example of TruSat
ConsenSys Space created the TruSat project. The first version was released in October 2019, then full control to the community was given in April 2020.
TruSat is a project which aims to record the orbital positions of satellites. The information is provided by citizens around the world. The data collected is accessible to everyone. To do what? As we have seen throughout the article, more and more satellites are being launched.
Currently, more than 2000 satellites are orbiting the Earth (see an interesting infographic ) and the launches are only accelerating. This only increases the risk of collisions between satellites. A collision is expensive and potentially risky because the debris can in turn create other collisions. It is therefore important to monitor their trajectory in space daily.
Chris Lewicki, the co-founder of ConsenSys Space, explains that the TruSat system is “open, self-contained and resistant to spurious entries” thanks to the underlying blockchain technology.
TruSat is a good example of a decentralized project in the space sector. The community of citizen-scientists who monitor space manages to generate a source of truth that no government or private actor can provide. Indeed, many people do not trust the government, whether American, Russian, Chinese, or otherwise, to provide an account of what is happening in space.
With the TruSat collective, and its decentralized governance system, any citizen cannot contribute and the results are protected from any modification thanks to the blockchain. Other projects of this type could see the light of day and constitute an interesting and necessary citizen counter-power in the space sector.
Companies are getting started …
On January 31, 2020, Accubits Technologies announced that it plans to launch the first blockchain satellite for businesses. This company had notably developed a blockchain-based solution to manage land registers for Dubai.
Their system provides a single source of truth about property status and automates recurring processes such as paying taxes and mortgage payments. Accubits is now going further with its Chainsat mission. The company wants to launch a satellite in 2021 to develop financial and IoT (Internet of Things) systems. But what are the reasons why corporates want to create their blockchain network in space?
Aharsh MS from CMO of Accubits Technologies provides some answers. He explains that blockchain technology will enable many interesting use cases for businesses, but to take advantage of this technology, you need a communication channel independent of the terrestrial Internet.
- To protect data
Indeed, some banking institutions and federal agencies are not allowed to host their data in computers connected to the Internet (to avoid hacking). Thus using a satellite connection would make their computers “connected” and therefore able to use the blockchain, while being inaccessible via the Internet network.
We can also see it as a means of allowing these companies not to be subject to the regulations in force on earth.
- For businesses based in remote locations
As part of an agri-food company that would like to create transparency around its production chain, for example. Internet access (often non-existent) on-site would be required to collect production data step by step from field to store. To make up for the lack of connectivity, a dedicated IoT service available via Satellite for farms and other remote production sites would be very useful.
Who will it benefit from?
It is legitimate to wonder if a constellation of satellites dedicated to companies meets a real need on the part of manufacturers in all sectors, or if it is a new way for certain players to override laws and regulations. terrestrial to better control us and collect our data.
How often, probably a bit of both.
In any case, this means that it is necessary, in parallel with the conquest of space by IT infrastructures, for regulation to evolve to supervise these practices. The challenge is to ensure that the rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens on earth are also respected in cyberspace.
We must also go further and ensure that space will be a common resource for all humans.
Indeed, the current irony is that the people who would benefit the most from access to blockchain and crypto, are those who today do not have access to a quality Internet and who live in places economically. and politically unstable.
Human societies must therefore move from a primitive model of resource management, which is the source of numerous conflicts and inequalities, to an organized model, today largely facilitated by social and technical innovations.
How we are going to manage space, both from a scientific point of view, and a tourist, mining, energy, IT, or residential point of view, will witness either an evolution or a return backward.
The stakes are clear: giving more power to citizens by giving them access to information and capital, freeing themselves from the monopolies of Internet service providers and other centralized Internet players, preserving and increasing people’s freedoms globally, regardless of their country of residence.
Will the space odyssey be an opportunity for human emancipation or the new theater of the hegemony of states and corporations over citizens?