Okay, so hear me out… there’s this thing called Bitcoin and it uses blockchain…

Sure, there’s hype. But blockchain has concrete space applications


Credit: Debra Warner, SpaceNews

News of cryptocurrency smatters your daily feed, surrounding this obscure construct called blockchain. But what is “blockchain?” How can it be used for space applications?

Author Debra Warner puts it simply, “distributed ledger technology [or blockchain], is a digital database that records transactions between parties. Instead of relying on a central authority or intermediary to maintain the database, every transaction is encrypted and stored in blocks throughout the network. As a result, anyone with authority to access the ledger can view and verify transactions.”

Speaking in gross generalizations, say you want to buy a snowboard from Facebook Marketplace. You find a guy named Bob with a snowboard and begin the transaction. Instead of the bank verifying that you have the funds, a decentralized third party named Jim, looks into the blockchain to verify that you have the money.

This idea can further be stretched to the space domain, when used for information transmission and data handling. Blockchain can be applied to data verification to ensure that no one along a byte’s path can alter it without the community knowing. “A government agency, for example, could gather imagery from commercial Earth-observation satellites, transfer it through commercial communications satellites and process it in the cloud without worrying that any of the firms involved could modify the network architecture or manipulate the imagery,” says Warner.

While a creative use of existing technology, blockchain verification is an arduous process that requires an excessive amount of power to perform. Therefore, there have already been talks of limiting the users to a vetted, but critical, group of organizations. This limitation produces a clear improvement path for the creators: improve the efficiency of blockchain transactions. However, blockchain has been tampered with before, proving that it’s not completely impervious to attacks. These high-paying users could paint an enormous target on their backs by trusting their critical information to an unproven process.

Correction: The Bitcoin blockchain has never been hacked, but networks that try to interleave blockchains have been previously. In August 2021, approximately $600 million was stolen from Poly Network.