Blockchain technology is finally going to space!
Hasshi Sudler, Chairman & CEO Internet Think Tank Inc. and Adjunct Professor at the Villanova University College of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his team will on November 20 be launching the world’s first private blockchain outside the Earth’s atmosphere from California’s Vandeberg Airbase.
The great thing about the event is that history will be made before, during, and after the event. Not much is known yet about performing blockchains outside earth.
It presents a chance to understand how blockchain technology will work in space and possibly one day could be an essential part of space exploration.
The possibilities are endless.
E-Crypto News reached out to Hasshi Sudler on this and other blockchain-related issues.
Here is what he had to say.
Hasshi Sudler, Chairman, and CEO of Internet Think Tank Inc. and Adjunct Professor at the Villanova University College of Electrical and Computer Engineering
1. What are the implications of the implementation of Space Blockchains?
The primary implication of space blockchains is that blockchains can help usher in space commerce by allowing direct satellite-to-satellite transactions.
Rather that satellites sending data only to ground stations, we now have a means of securely transacting data between satellites over an immutable distributed ledger.
The benefits of inter-satellite transactions include lowering the need for numerous ground stations to maintain constant communication with orbiting satellites.
It also allows one satellite to leverage unique data held by other satellites to complete its mission. And by leveraging data from satellites already in orbit, society can minimize excessive satellite deployments and reduce space debris, one of the highest risks to existing space satellites.
2. How does the Proof of Authority Consensus protocol work?
Proof of Authority is a means of confirming transactions through the use of validators, people verified to secure the blockchain network.
Proof of Authority is considered more robust than other consensus protocols such as Proof of Stake (PoS) and Proof of Work (PoW) because it uses a validator’s identity rather than assets held to ensure validators are working in the best interest of securing the blockchain or large amounts of energy associated with traditional blockchains. Instead, validator reputation is at stake to maintain the integrity of the network.
3. Is the upcoming experiment going to usher in new use-case scenarios of blockchain technology?
I believe it will. The blockchain is designed to record unique transactions between entities. Satellites will serve as those entities capable of transacting with one another without the need for intervention from ground stations.
This allows satellite developers to monetize inter-satellites transactions using token exchanges as a common currency.
Satellites holding unique data such as measurements of celestial events or of the Earth can transact that data with other satellites wishing to make use of that data.
A wide variety of smart contracts can be developed to manage requests between satellites when such data is needed. A satellite will no longer need to do everything itself to accomplish its mission.
It will be able operate as part of a constellation of other satellites, some of which may belong to other operators.
4. Do you think Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs) will replace legacy systems? Please give us the reasons for your answer.
To some degree. If we consider traditional databases as legacy systems, there will be a number of use-cases where trust will be an important factor.
Transactions between entities that do not necessarily trust one another are good use-cases where blockchains may replace traditional databases. Inter-satellite transactions are a prime example.
The satellites may belong to different companies or even different countries, so there is a question of trust. Blockchain ensures the transactions are immutable and highly distributed across a significant number of storage devices.
Speed is one area where legacy database systems have been superior to blockchains, but through the use of newer consensus models such as a Proof of Authority, blockchains will be able to compete on speed for certain applications.
There will always be a need for single server databases that are fast and support applications where trust is not incredibly crucial.
But blockchain is uniquely positioned for situations where competitors can benefit by cooperating, while still remaining competitors – effectively a Nash equilibrium. Those situations will facilitate the replacement of legacy systems where appropriate.
5. What are the challenges that you face when conducting research into the use of DLTs?
One of the challenges is maintaining trust while also improving security and speed. The tradeoff is that as you increase security by perhaps using a private blockchain network, you introduce a human administrative function for admitting new users into the network.
One can argue that this administrative function opens the potential for collusion that limit new members to the network. So, the constitution of the consortium and how it operates becomes very important.
The other tradeoff is that improvements in speed by using newer consensus models, such as Proof of Authority, introduce validators – essentially people who are verified to run trustworthy nodes.
This moves away from Proof of Work that uses energy as a means of confirming new blocks to the blockchain. So, although we can use several validators to confirm new blocks, we initially need to trust these individuals to play the role of validators.
These are some of the important tradeoffs we need to manage as we seek higher performance while also maintaining trust in the network. It ultimately shapes how we design the network, how many nodes we need, and how many of those nodes should be validators.
Finally, we always need to be concerned with attacks on the blockchain. For example, a 51% attack is a threat created when a number of nodes collude to essentially dominate the confirmation of new blocks. 51% attacks were theoretical during the early days of blockchain but in 2019, a 51% attack was successfully staged against Ethereum Classic.
It proved that if blockchains are small enough, malicious actors can gather enough computational power to overtake a blockchain double-spend coins. Ensuring network integrity against such attacks is always the highest priority.
6. Do you think the mass adoption of DLTs will occur? How do you think this will happen?
DLT is still in its infancy. It is a little more than 10 years old. The Internet took 30 years to become a household name.
I believe there are more innovations to come that could trigger blockchain mass adoption. Some of these innovations may emerge by marrying blockchain with other powerful technologies, such as AI.
There are a number of compelling reasons why we ought to marry blockchain with AI: 1. AI has problems with explainability. Blockchain can provide a reliable audit trail that can explain why complex AI models made certain decisions or arrived at certain conclusions.
AI on the other hand has the high potential of making smart contract even smarter, essentially giving blockchain powerful decision making capabilities to trigger transactions.
7. Which direction do you think your experiments will go in say five years’ time?
Based on terrestrial tests we’ve conducted, we expect satellite-to-satellite transactions will work well and prove that space commerce is feasible for transactions of various sizes.
I believe this will lead to manufacturers developing satellites capable of transacting certain types of data with neighboring satellites and monetizing those transactions accordingly.
I believe over the next five years, there will be significant progress in establishing a constellation of satellites that support LEO (Low Earth Orbit) blockchain networks.
As we continue research in this area, a significant focus will be on creating smart contracts that give satellites more autonomy in determining what the satellites needs and requesting specific data from neighboring satellites.
This would introduce a space economy where satellites can potentially compete on price and quality of data. And token payments can be made for immediate data exchanges or for requests to be fulfilled at a specified time in the future – basically a futures contract.
8. Why did you choose space-based Blockchain research?
Ease of launches are rapidly increasing the number of satellite deployments, each capable of collecting unique data. As the population of satellites increases, the opportunity for satellites to leverage other satellites for unique data they possess will increase.
This type of data sharing also reduces the engineering required for a single satellite to carry out its mission. I see this as a significant emerging economy where satellites no longer need to be limited to ground station communications or collect all data themselves.
They can now expand into peer-to-peer transactions that enhance their functions.
9. What do you intend to achieve with space-based blockchain research?
We are looking to identify the optimal population of nodes using PoA and to validate the feasibility of satellite-to-satellite transactions, where nodes themselves are in constant motion and out of view of other satellites in the network for periods of time.
We plan to analyze particular logistical limitations to transacting data in between satellites and paying for those data transactions with tokens through smart contracts.
This research is designed to help usher in reliable blockchain configurations that can support space commerce. This is a very new area that can expand our economic development into space.
And in the process help to fuel humankind’s rapid exploration beyond Earth.
10. If you had three wishes for the blockchain space and a Genie that could make it come true what will they be?
A. 2018 marked the 10-year anniversary of blockchain technology since Satoshi Nakamoto published the landmark paper on Bitcoin. Since 2018, there has been a spike in applied use of blockchain.
At Villanova University, we are applying blockchain to a wide variety of use cases – from social applications on Earth to satellites in space. My wish is to have an unlimited team of engineers, industry specialists, and resources to explore the many use cases where blockchain can have a significant impact.
B. At Villanova University, we are applying blockchain to a wide variety of use cases – from social issues such as poverty here on Earth to satellite transactions in space. My second wish is that innovators apply blockchain in ways to solve both social and technical issues.
C. In 2014, MIT conducted research on the adoption of Bitcoin. This research, known as the MIT Bitcoin Project, revealed that technology adoption can be incredibly hard to predict.
As blockchain has matured, one areas that helps with adoption is educating people on how blockchains work and how they can be useful.
So my third wish is that everyone understand the basics of blockchain so it becomes an option when designing solutions.
The more people are familiar with the technology, even at a general level, the more innovation can occur around blockchain use-cases.