The Inevitability of a Space Economy
Space colonization is around the corner and it is no longer a stretch to ponder going to the Moon for future vacations, especially as private companies are sending civilians into space. It is in fact already possible to travel to space, as billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have made seats available in their spacecrafts for a starting price of around $250,000.
Once space tourism kicks in, it won’t be long until humanity starts setting up shop in outer space. While visionary industries are focused on preparing for this new phase, it is now a reasonable and somewhat urgent task to ponder how economies could be organized in space; dilemmas will surge as humans attempt to transact in space.
The first dilemma is the primordial concern of how to organize property in outer space. As of now, these matters are officially addressed by a document called “The Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space” from 1963, which states that “no one nation may claim ownership of outer space or any celestial body”. While this is an ideal approach to the issue, this verbose manifesto-like document is becoming outdated. The fact that an economy will develop in outer space and consequently some idea of property will follow from it, is becoming an unavoidable reality. Once we admit that, the real challenge will be to prevent the formation of monopolies and authoritarian systems of government in space. Since some companies currently have a disparate advantage in the race for space conquest and are setting up advanced orbital shells, such as SpaceX Starlink, OneWeb, and Amazon Kuiper, it is not inconceivable that a monopoly could develop… and these are some of the reasons why we will need blockchain.
In an exclusive text interview given to Dailycoin, blockchain consultant Ayush Chandra, said that:
"Although we are still 15-20 years away from seeing practical applications of blockchain in space, distributed ledgers can be useful for monitoring AI-based systems such as the navigational activities of automated aircrafts and rovers and making their control systems more tamper-proof. Besides, cryptocurrencies would be much more practical in an environment where there are no big banks and centralized servers, and fiat is difficult to transport. Cryptocurrencies could be much more easily integrated with automated systems deployed in space, and blockchains can help set up systems for trading energy, and smart contracts can help ‘feed’ or fuel AI, with either energy or computational resources when set criterias are met. When societies learn to operate independently from planet Earth, distributed ledger technology will be key in setting up consensus-based organisational structures for decision making as well as for regulating trade. If AI is trained and rewarded within the confines of consensus-based algorithms, every person can have a say in defining the roles and responsibilities of robots. Law enforcement will be even more important in space than it is on Earth and it will be a gargantuan responsibility that will only be successfully undertaken with the help of AI. It is important, therefore, that the laws that govern AIs are determined and controlled directly by the majority. DLT gives us this opportunity by making our personal computational resources available for building and maintaining the infrastructure of independant and attack-resistant communication and control that powerful and yet compliant AIs can grow alongside with."
Since the very ownership of space-conquering technology is becoming ever more decentralized, shifting from national space agencies to the private domain, the possibility of an in-space economy is part of the debate. As a fundamental building block of space economy, blockchain is needed in order to establish a neutral nationality currency, so that no national economic system has an advantage over another. The use of any given national currency in space would most likely facilitate the transplantation of Earth’s political anomalies into space. As far as we know the most advanced solution for such an international monetary system is cryptocurrency.
The uses of blockchain in space are also of interest to military and intelligence agencies. China for example, has signalled its intention to prevent “cyber and physical attacks” against space assets and create a multi-department system for maintenance and update of equipment status. The US military, on the other hand, has been eyeing the possibility of using blockchain for anonymous intelligence gathering and covert payments for allied personnel.
Other in-space uses proposed by international researchers include blockchain as a property registry, identity management, especially for protection against cyberattacks, to “facilitate on-orbit satellite communication data integrity and security”, to reduce “manual intervention in monitoring and control”, “tracking various components of vehicles”, as a component of “smart services for space traffic management” and as a means to coordinate the fulfillment of a desired operation carried out by many individual spacecraft.
The reason why blockchain is such a strong solution for in-space problems is its low technological demand which can help overcome the many difficulties that any space mission has to overcome in terms of managing transactions and digital information in general. For example, carrying electrical power is quite problematic when in space. Another issue is dissipating heat in a vacuum, which makes it inconvenient at the least to carry heavy machinery into space. Computational capabilities are generally much more limited in space than terrestrially; the great distances create light speed delays in communication.
Thus, implementing blockchain as a solution for spatial missions is already becoming a technological demand, which will eventually scale into a socioeconomic demand for the organisation of markets and governance systems much in the same way as on Earth.
On The Flipside
- Blockchain implementation in space also has its own technical limitations, as it requires a large amount of interconnected computers to operate simultaneously and independently. Other DLTs are emerging that may offer better performance for applications in space; besides, new technologies may evolve that are more useful for long distance communication than traditional computing.
- There is also a potential philosophical criticism of blockchain that compares it to the concept of simulacrum, or in simple terms “a copy without an original”. Blockchain as a simulacrum would mean it is a mathematical solution for a problem that doesn’t really exist before the solution is created. When a simulacrum takes a life of its own, a hyperreality is formed, much in the way we often use the word “hype” when referring to blockchain and cryptocurrency. Using outer space to justify blockchain’s importance before its use cases are fulfilled on Earth might be part of such a hype.