Blockchain and the New Space Age: An Inevitable Convergence of Web 3.0 and Space 4.0?

Ozkan Gurhan - Senior Engineer at Aviate Labs

June 19, 2022
TABLE OF CONTENTS

At the Dawn of a New Space Age, Space 4.0

Image by NASA

The evolution of human interest in space has been driven by the desire to explore the unknown, pushing the boundaries of knowledge with the urge to discover new  worlds. This abstract motivation to push further the limits of science has always  provided unprecedented benefits. Beginning with the curiosity about the sky, moon, sun,  and other stars visible to human eye, we have seen the first human to walk on the moon.  This can be referred to as moving from Space1.0 to Space 2.0 with the help of rocket  technology. I believe the permanent presence in space a decade ago with the International  Space Station was the benchmark for the evolution from Space 2.0 to Space 3.0 as it was  indeed a new frontier for space exploration cooperation. 

Today we are in the middle of a full-scale evolution of the space sector into a new era,  namely Space 4.0 as the new space age is emerging at full throttle with emerging space  science and technologies. Recently, space was only allowed to governments or space  agencies due to extremely high costs and operational risks which made space exploration  inaccessible to private companies. Thanks to the advanced satellite, launch, or other space  technologies, we now witness the emergence of other players in space exploitation or  exploration. We have a great opportunity now to advance to a new entrepreneurial spirit  with all those advanced technologies coming together with space-based innovations or  ideas. 

Back a decade ago we had a handful of geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites operated  manually, now hundreds of satellites are being launched in constellations with a wide  spectrum of functionality ranging from earth observation, high-resolution imagery and  internet connectivity to extreme scientific applications such as astrophysical explorations of the whole universe. Most recent SpaceX launches for Starlink LEO satellites can be a nice  example of such a new entrepreneurial spirit that is rapidly shaping a new space economy.  

With the advances in space technology, declining launch costs and rising public sector interest, Space 4.0 has the potential to position space exploration into a more “democratic” format. As such, it is not indeed surprising to be at a time when space is evolving from being the preserve of the governments of a few nations to a more democratic format in which there is an increased number of diverse space actors around the world, including the emergence of private companies, participation with academia, industry, and citizens.

Emerging LEO Satellite Constellations

Inevitably, with the declining cost of satellites and operational launch costs, the new multiplayer space economy is getting more innovative by private companies like SpaceX bringing new technologies into practical space applications within a broad spectrum of space launchers to low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations. This trend or revolution can indeed be powerful and coercive to provide new frontiers. Presumably, the advent of LEO satellite constellations has provided us with a new perspective on global internet connectivity with low latency. 

Image by x2n.com

The LEO constellations like Starlink and OneWeb have the potential to provide a feasible  global solution to bridging the digital divide to connect the “unconnected”. Reflecting back  on the fact that the internet is an indispensable catalyst for social and economic development, LEO satellite connectivity can fix the “digital divide” problem while easing the dependence on the existence of costly terrestrial infrastructure.  

LEO satellite constellations can also be a test-bed for other innovative applications such as earth observations, tracking, Internet of Things (IoT), smart city devices, GPS or other latency-critical connectivity solutions as LEO satellites play a significant role in improving coverage and capacity in both urban and remote areas where terrestrial networks are not deployed and provide secure and resilient connectivity. LEO satellites have become the prominent gateway to digital data. It is a fact that the reliance of the societies on space assets has grown to the point today that they are an essential part of critical applications in a variety of sectors from governmental digital services, telecommunications, and novel manufacturing technologies to transportation infrastructure and financial applications. 

As a scientist with a background on applied physics, I personally believe, the innovative opportunity of the new space technology will allow for the exploration of uncharted territories beyond existing limits for a more sustainable space sector, a space economy that is more secure and readily accessible to all. With all those aspects, the previous barriers are coming down. Can all those barriers be brought further down with blockchain technology? 

Blockchain a Game Changer for the Evolution of Web 3.0?

Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at the particle accelerator at CERN who invented  the world wide web back in 1989, we now enjoy the unprecedented scales of connectivity  and information access in all aspects of our lives. The evolution of the web from being an automated information-sharing between scientists into static web pages (Web1.0) and then into a dynamic web format (Web2.0) with users as content producers were indeed one of the top evolutionary and prominent features of the 21st century. Luckily, I have been in the right generation to keep up and observe this evolution. And now keeping up with the evolution of Web3.0 which will potentially be a more user-owned with a more democratic format of the global web.

Image by Forbes

As a simple explanation, blockchain is a distributed ledger technology model, consisting as chain of blocks in a decentralized, immutable distributed database with a cryptographically secure digital record of data. Blockchain technology is open to all members with no centralized administrators, all data transactions are verified/approved by consensus among the members. Every user in the network has access to a copy of digital blocks and validates all updates to the block or ledger. This specifically eliminates the need for third-party trust. With those innovational aspects, blockchain has recently established itself as an enabling technology in various domains and applications with its unique functionalities.

With its new and unique functionalities such as smart contracts, immutability, decentralized infrastructure, consensus and cryptographic mechanisms, blockchain-based solutions have unrivaled superiorities to increase the trust in data via transparency and traceability. It allows introducing the novelty of self-sovereign identity which lets individuals own and control access to their personal data. There are currently growing numbers of academic research, industrial applications with blockchain based solutions. It is also pleasing to see the growing number of regional or global blockchain initiatives and ecosystems. I believe those efforts will raise the situational awareness of different players and make the learning curve less stiff as blockchain holds great promise for disrupting and decentralizing many industries and markets. Moreover, blockchain technology is not a standalone solution, it can be applied with existing data architectures, technologies or devices. While there is a great deal of work going on about blockchain or distributed-ledger technologies, in the future people would be able to use blockchain-based solutions in the form of reduced costs for transactions, enhanced privacy, scalability, and data security with great efficiencies.

Blockchain at the Convergence of Web 3.0 and Space 4.0

Image by XR Today

Would it be unrealistic to see blockchain technology as the most important crucial foundation of the convergence of Web3.0 and Space4.0? I believe it is truly realistic and it is potentially one of the supraoptimal solutions for space-based applications.

More Secure Space-Based Data

Blockchain technology is new and I believe the world is just tapping into its potential superiorities when compared to existing technologies. And its nascency is mirrored by the developing space industry in line with the evolution of Space4.0. An example would be the provenance of meta satellite data. The security concerns can be where the satellite data was downlinked, where it was processed, what different processes were applied to etc. Can cryptography on blockchain be the best solution to satellite data security? I believe the striking features of blockchain, accountability, transparency, data security and the efficiency that blockchain technology can not be shrugged off. As it will verify that the satellite data is secure and has not been changed while transmitted in a loop. It is also evident that data sharing between entities in space using blockchain will be easier and more secure as it will ensure trust more generally.

GEO Applications, Earth Observation on Blockchain

Space-based geographical applications and earth observation data are highly multidimensional with coordinates, timestamps, different data from different sensors, data from different suppliers with different revenue schemes. In that sense, satellite data on the blockchain with a decentralized infrastructure based on distributed ownership will not be owned or controlled by a single entity but governed and operated by various layers of entities or layers. Such a setup will add a trust layer, dynamic ownership and sharing. So eventually everyone can access space data, not only governments, intelligence agencies or big corporates. It can assure satellite data is accessed by everyone in a trusted manner as the authenticity and the integrity of data will be assured in a distributed ownership infrastructure. The superiority of blockchain-based solutions is that it would be possible to be blended on existing various satellite image processes, image recognition infrastructure, and artificial intelligence algorithms. As those technologies are currently at their tipping point of innovation, blockchain technologies can provide a new acceleration to integrate all those technologies and develop entirely new innovative solutions.

Blockchain-Based Tokenization of Space Assets

Space assets can be converted into digital tokens which can be moved, recorded or stored in a blockchain system. Such a solution would enable crypto token-based ownership, tracking and management of various space assets such as spacecrafts, satellites, asteroids or other astronomical bodies. It can indeed revolutionize future space explorations including moon or asteroid mining, mapping while ensuring space resource utilization irrespective of geographical location.

Fully Decentralized, Sovereignty Agnostic Space-Based Infrastructure

With the reducing cost of satellites and wide utilization of space assets, space-based blockchain can provide a fully decentralized and sovereignty agnostic infrastructure which is the most essential part of Web3.0. This can be possible with an all-in-space infrastructure via satellites capable of computation or through space-based assets with data center functionalities. Such assets would probably be at GEO or higher altitudes with a significant power budget probably via enhanced solar panels or advanced small modular reactors. In such a way, in order to be fully sovereignty-agnostic; those space-based assets would eliminate the need for ground stations which then requires the ability to directly communicate with end-users.

In essence; the space industry is currently undergoing rapid evolution as private companies or other entities transform the sector and spearhead innovation in space technologies. There are significant applications of blockchain technologies in many domains as well as in space technologies. The current blockchain adoption rates are still away from maturity, but the current trend of blockchain-based solutions does not lie. The potential of blockchain technology is increasingly investigated in the space sector.

Life has a way of teaching us that patience pays off. Blockchain may seem like a premature technology, but its ability to open space technology up for so many innovative solutions might make it the epicenter of the convergence of Web 3.0 and Space 4.0.