Today, businesses large and small, and across a range of industries are creating new strategies around the concept of blockchain. Whether it be for supply chain management, visibility and transparency, or for providing a new level of security for banks that they could not offer previously, blockchain is changing companies do business.
Because of its ability to create more efficient supply chains, blockchain has also found its way into space exploration projects. With complicated supply chains, including many different rocket parts coming from different vendors, rocket companies are always looking for ways to make their supply chains run more efficiently. According to Space.com “the problem is that rocket supply chains, like many others, are complicated, costly and time-consuming. For companies to build and launch rockets most efficiently, the distance between their supply-chain links needs to be short, their business interactions have to be transparent and the tracking of the moving parts must be optimized and available in real time.” In an industry that relies so heavily on the collection of resources from different parties in their supply chains, blockchain technology provides a foundation to innovate quickly and efficiently.
In a nutshell, blockchain is an encrypted ledger that can track transactions at every step in a process and provide insight to suppliers, manufacturers, and anyone else involved in the transaction. These insights are secure and decentralized, eliminating the need for intermediaries or third parties to moderate the transactions by relying more heavily on a digital database. By leaving out third parties that may be involved in the transaction, production is faster and more efficient, while saving money too. Using smart contracting in some cases, interactions between links are more transparent, faster, and more cost effective by tracking products from their origin to their customer.
With space exploration requiring state-of-the-art research, which usually is extremely expensive, companies and even countries have not had the ability to fund exploration programs. According to Stephen O’Neal of Cointelegraph, “Space is an area that has been historically researched by few governments, being a complex matter that requires thorough, high-class research and, therefore, substantial funding. More recently, with the emerging popularity of audacious startups like SpaceX, space exploration has become a less exclusive area. Now, however, it seems that the cryptocurrencies’ primary features — blockchain, its underlying technology, and the concept of an Initial Coin Offering (ICO), its crowdfunding model — are bringing in even more power into the previously unshared territory.” With ICO’s blockchain, companies can receive funding quickly from anyone in the world and begin to innovate. Whether it is startups like SpaceX or companies looking to improve the efficiencies of supply chains in the aerospace industry, blockchain is changing the way these companies are approaching their biggest challenges.
Blockchain in Aerospace
In 2017, NASA awarded a $330,000 grant to University of Akron’s Dr. Jin Wei Kocsis to enhance space communications and navigation. In this project, underlying blockchain technology is helping develop an autonomous spacecraft that can make decisions on its own without human intervention. According to University of Akron, “Wei Kocsis, the recipient of a three-year, $330,000 Early Career Faculty grant from NASA, is leading an effort here to develop a “Resilient Networking and Computing Paradigm” (RNCP) that uses the blockchain technology underlying “smart contracts,” from the digital currency world to create spacecraft that “think” on their own – allowing them, for example, to automatically detect and dodge floating debris.” Overall, blockchain technologies provide a powerful platform for deep learning-based data analytics, allowing for the creation of new projects based around automation of mission critical space operations.
This project will use Ethereum blockchain technology to develop a decentralized, secure, cognitive networking and computing infrastructure. Wei Kocsis explains “The blockchain consensus protocols will be further explored to improve the resilience of the infrastructure.” Thomas Kacpura from NASA believes that if successful, this project “would support decentralized processing among NASA space network nodes in a secure fashion, resulting in a more responsive, resilient scalable network that can integrate current and future networks in a consistent manner.” Overall, the results of this project could help NASA with next-generation space networks and products with limited human intervention. These new offerings have the potential to lower operating costs and the risks associated with human error, as well as help spacecraft think for themselves and avoid space objects that could be potentially damaging.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has been involved with blockchain as well. Their continued research has been using technology to streamline internal administrative processes instead of improving analytics around spacecraft automation. In September of 2017, ESA released a report “Distributed Ledger Technology: Leveraging Blockchain for ESA’s Success.” The paper outlines the both the positives and negatives of blockchain implementations. More importantly, it takes a look at all the potential benefits that it would provide to ESA specifically. ESA viewed the following blockchain characteristics as specifically desirable:
1) Smart contracts in logistics
2) More efficient payment processes
3) Real-time access to data to make changes
4) Seamless updates to access rights and an immutable voting system
Also, from the report, it is important to note a discussion around Space 4.0. ESA views Space 4.0 as “a time when space is evolving from being the preserve of the governments of a few spacefaring nations to a situation in which there is the increased number of diverse space actors around the world, including the emergence of private companies, participation with academia, industry and citizens, digitalization and global interaction.” ESA believes this space evolution has the possibility of being influenced by blockchain technologies. With new challenges creating new organizational goals, blockchain is very much part of ESA’s roadmap.
Earlier this year, Space Cooperative Inc, a California Cooperative Corporation, launched Space Decentral. Focused on space expansion, Space Decentral allows for a decentralized autonomous space agency that uses blockchain technology. From SpaceDecentral.net “we are building a decentralized space program, connecting thousands of engineers, scientists, and future astronauts, to devise and fund next-generation space initiatives.” Open and decentralized, blockchain-enabled Coral looks to create a platform that will allow 3D printing on the lunar surface and 3D-print homes for lunar settlers. According to CryptoInsider, “the Coral program will involve a series of phases with increasing complexity and scope, starting with design, prototyping and testing on Earth, and culminating in the robotic construction of a prototype habitat structure on the lunar surface, printed on-site with lunar regolith.” Overall, the collaborative efforts of people working together on Coral from different backgrounds, while leveraging blockchain technologies makes this project very unique. Collective efforts by Aragon, Harbour Project, focusing mainly on blockchain, and Space Decentral and Giveth‘s Planning App for Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), create an interface where the public can have influence into space exploration and travel.
The space industry is evolving through collaborative research projects and efforts from players in the aerospace industry, big and small. Blockchain technology is offering companies a platform to conduct business securely and efficiently. Whether companies are utilizing blockchain to improve internal business processes, or to create innovative products and solutions, the technology has the ability to change the way businesses and humans view transactions and information in general. With more data integrity, better insights can be gathered leading to more accurate and efficient decision-making and increased automation.
Space travel and exploration has for the most part been unattainable to many because of the costs associated with the complex designs and expenses of the spacecrafts themselves. With more efficient supply chains lowering the costs of building spacecraft, and the ongoing efforts of companies like SpaceX, we are not too far from space travel becoming accessible to many. Blockchain technology is one of the key enablers of affordable and efficient space travel and exploration. Clabby Analytics is looking forward to seeing how blockchain continues to change the industry.