Friday, May 15, 2015

SpaceChain: A decentralized, private space program, powered by Bitcoin

In what seems to be a perfect convergence of my interests, SpaceChain (which is headed by Iman Mirboki of Sweden) is building a decentralized space program using open-source software and hardware designs, bitcoin, and crowd-sourcing. Their goals are ambitious, including putting a satellite into permanent orbit using a rocket they have built themselves. They are also integrating Bitcoin as a means for space assets (satellites, rockets, etc.) to exchange payments for services. Their proof of this concept is to launch both a satellite cargo and a fuel cargo in separate modules and then have the satellite cargo pay for a fuel transfer.

I can't tell you how exciting this is. Many folks in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency space have talking about machine-to-machine payments as a use case for Bitcoin, and many in the space access community know that on-orbit refueling is a critical step into expanding human activity beyond low-Earth orbit in an economical way. Combining these two trends is beyond cutting edge.

In the near term I have realistic expectations of SpaceChain, which is that they won't accomplish much too quickly. Such poorly funded efforts rarely do. But still, the existence of the program at all is a testament to how the Internet + Bitcoin is changing (and will continue to change) our world, along with advances we are seeing in electronics, sensors, and robotics.

For nearly 25 years now the Internet has allowed people to organize thoughts and software code around the world, and it gave us things that couldn't have existed prior to it, like Linux and Wikipedia. Now with Bitcoin it's finally as easy to coordinate and aggregate economic value and interest on a global scale, and this will mean that decentralized teams (or even just aggregations of fans) will be able to do things requiring money that it used to require corporations or governments to organize. Kickstarter is only a first taste of decentralized economic activity, built as it is on top of the old credit card networks.

Decentralized manufacturing (3D-printing and home CNC-mills) plus advances in commodity miniature electronics thrown off by the smartphone supply chain will be the other half of this story. With the democratization of the tools of manufacturing, the hardest part of manufacturing that remains is figuring out how to build something. When that knowledge can be aggregated and shared for free across the globe, the barriers to entry and experimentation fall rapidly.

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