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Making Space Affordable And Accessible With A Decentralized Satellite Infrastructure

Ironically, the void called space has a lot in store for humanity.

According to the Harvard Business Review, in 2019, the Space-for-Earth economy constituting space services for terrestrial needs accounted for 95% of the revenue earned in the space sector. This figure substantiates that space is now a critical part of our infrastructure. Yet, today as we communicate globally, track locations on our smartphones, watch shows on television, or forecast climatic changes, we hardly acknowledge the satellite systems enabling these services.

Space science has made tremendous progress, but we are still far from bringing cosmic resources to our maximum use. To an extent, the dynamics of public and private authorities in the space sector can be held accountable for it. For example, spaceflights had predominantly been a government affair. This monopoly caused a surge in the costs of space exploration but thankfully, with the intervention of private entities, putting payloads in space is now more affordable. Nevertheless, space is a novelty for many small-scale enterprises and startups, and there is a need for a Decentralized Satellite Infrastructure (DSI) for the actual commercialization of space.

There is already a buzz that services and applications enabled by satellite infrastructure will fetch massive economic returns. Still, very few are working towards building one. SpaceChain and its consortium partners have taken the initiative to form the world’s first open-source, blockchain-based satellite network. A mesh-node constellation of Low Earth Orbit microsatellites will serve as the next generation of decentralized infrastructure for the blockchain industry. With the DSI, users will be able to develop and run applications in space such as cryptocurrency exchanges, global real-time sensor arrays, ultra-secure data storage, space VR, true peer-to-peer encrypted messages, and a lot more. Old satellites, spacecraft, and hardware will be networked together by the open-source protocol and technology created by the SpaceChain community. By leveraging a blockchain-based satellite constellation, SpaceChain is trying to make space affordable and accessible for everyone.

Barriers in Availing Satellite Services

Satellites have applications in diverse fields such as telecommunication, navigation, map-making, meteorology, environmental monitoring, broadcasting, weather forecasting, etc. However, for industries to capitalize on these satellite services is challenging and costly.

SpaceChain’s technology manager, Ziheng Xiang, cited an example of the agriculture and mining industry where satellite imagery is in demand for discovering new means of augmenting production. Agricultural maps, generated with satellite imagery, provide valuable information about green vegetation, soil zones, and crop yields that can help strategize plantations and increase return on investment.

However, acquiring satellite imagery data from earth observation companies is quite tricky. Firstly, one must go through a tedious sales process involving countless interactions with sales personnel and signing contracts for accessing a simple data set. It happens before determining whether the procured data will be valuable. If the data is not as helpful as expected, all effort goes to waste, which is why people hesitate to invest in satellite imagery. In addition, it is pretty expensive. Lastly, satellite imagery is difficult to comprehend in its raw format as it has a higher spectrum different from visible visual light. Hiring talents to analyze this data can be equally challenging.

Accumulating data becomes even more complex when countries and parties owning the satellites are adversaries. Often, such parties refrain from sharing their satellite data due to a lack of trust, which keeps communities from exploring the full potential of space.

A platform for Decentralized Applications-The Way Forward

“SpaceChain is creating a digital platform to bring satellite applications closer to the users,” says Ziheng. “We’re creating the platform in a decentralized application where people sign up using their blockchain wallet. We are also talking to different satellite companies to open the application interface to our platform. Then any user with a blockchain wallet can easily acquire data on the platform. They can publish their requirements on the platform, and then satellite companies or operators can react with that kind of data set and application services. So it’s kind of a crowd floating platform for any industry that wants to explore the idea of satellite imagery and space data analysis services”, he adds.

Elaborating on SpaceChain’s initiatives for realizing this vision, Ziheng mentions that SpaceChain is researching decentralized computing services. So that, if the users do not have a powerful enough server to analyze the data, they can still study it using the computing services from a third party. In addition, SpaceChain is using blockchain technology to ensure the security of these services.

“SpaceChain’s idea behind a Decentralized Satellite Infrastructure is to create a collaborative constellation that is open-source. This will enable companies such as Alba Orbital that build pocket cube satellites to launch cheap, small satellites that are the size of a mobile phone,” says SpaceChain CCO Nick Trudgen.

Creating a Trustworthy and Collaborative Environment

Ziheng mentions that people are building satellite constellations, but these are centralized and mostly communication-focused, supporting people to relay messages from one location to another. In addition, people are building constellations for other applications such as satellite imagery and space exploration. Still, these are limited as the technology is centralized in companies that are not ready to help others in space exploration.

Quoting Ziheng, “SpaceChain is building a blockchain infrastructure to create an environment of trust wherein communication is via transactions that are transparent and cryptographically secured. With this infrastructure, SpaceChain is building a constellation that enables collaborations between companies and spacecraft without trusting each other. It will help people collaborate on matters such as downloading data from a partner company as things will be transparent. You will be able to control which interface to open and what data to sell. In the later phase of DSI, you can collaborate with a third-party spacecraft for satellite mining and space explorations.”

Nick believes that one of the critical benefits of DSI is allowing companies and space agencies to launch satellites that share data between countries and satellites that wouldn’t usually collaborate. Blockchain will act as a neutral referee to enable trust between those disparate parties allowing them to share satellite data in a way that will benefit humanity, especially on subjects like space debris.

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