In March, a crypto company announced a Bitcoin treasure hunt – in space. The company, LunarCrush, plans to send a rover more than 200,000 miles to the moon this year with a private key etched on the device. Whoever finds the robber first can use the private key to collect 62 Bitcoin worth about $2 million at current prices.
While the celestial contest smacks of yet another crypto-related publicity stunt — others include artist Jeff Koons’ plan to put an NFT-linked sculpture on the moon — a growing number of crypto companies are treating the intersection of digital assets and space as a serious matter. long-term project. business opportunity.
At the end of June, crypto startup Cryptosat announced that it is working on a “Space Wallet” designed to secure cryptocurrency in space. And a number of other companies, such as Blockstream, SpaceChain, and Filecoin, have projects to integrate blockchains with space technology or to use the remoteness of space to secure decentralized ledgers.
Space for Blockchain
Yan Michalevsky, one of Cryptosat’s co-founders, says blockchain can cross the cosmos in two ways: “blockchain for space,” or using blockchains to enhance and improve existing space technology, and “space for blockchain,” or using cosmic technology to improve blockchains themselves.
Cryptosat falls into the latter camp. Founded by Stanford graduates Michalevsky and Yonatan Winetraub, the startup has sent two satellites the size of coffee mugs into space. Both are equipped with small computers that can perform simple calculations such as securing crypto stocks.
“Given that they are not physically accessible,” Michalevsky said Fortune“that can protect against highly sophisticated attacks that are becoming relevant, especially in the blockchain and Web3 space.”
Cryptosat’s plans are a space-based spin on the crypto industry’s ongoing quest to help owners take drastic measures to secure their assets. To a layperson, the idea of using the remoteness of space to secure crypto may feel overkill, but it can provide financial institutions or privacy-focused developers with additional peace of mind.
SpaceChain, another crypto startup co-founded by former Bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik, similarly has nodes, or tiny computers, racing through the cosmos. They have attached seven to existing satellites and three are on the International Space Station, CEO Cliff Beek said.
“A blockchain node or any other node in space that is outside of the terrestrial infrastructure creates an air gap for any unauthorized access,” he said. Fortune, noting how difficult it would be for a hacker to access a computer hurtling above the Earth at about 17,000 miles per hour. A SpaceChain node weighs 100 grams and measures about twenty by twenty centimeters, according to Beek.
Then there’s Blockstream, a Bitcoin-focused company founded by Adam Back, an early member of the cypherpunks who corresponded with Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto, who also makes space-related investments.
The company, which raised $125 million in January to expand its Bitcoin mining business, is renting four satellites to broadcast Bitcoin’s blockchain, or its decentralized database, around the globe.
“One of Bitcoin’s promises is the ability to improve global access to money transfers, finance, international transfers, and the like,” Back said. Fortune. However, he said that in some countries, the cost of a high-speed Internet connection can exceed the average monthly wage, and that a satellite dish is relatively cheaper.
Back’s vision is that someone could buy an old laptop, hook it up to a cheap satellite dish, and then broadcast Bitcoin’s data locally. He hopes that “entrepreneurs and companies in different parts of the world where bandwidth is more expensive will use this infrastructure to make it economically viable,” he said.
Currently, Blockstream’s satellites only broadcast the Bitcoin blockchain, but do not update it. The company is actively working to enable its satellites to receive data in the near future, Back said Fortune.
Blockchain for space
Space could potentially help secure blockchains and provide a launching pad for broadcasting blockchain information, but some believe distributed ledgers could improve existing space technology — and even secure potential communiqués from our alien neighbors.
In May, the SETI Institute (short for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) announced it was partnering with Protocol Labs, a core developer behind the Filecoin project, a decentralized database.
In particular, SETI conducted a fire drill to simulate how best to respond if a satellite intercepts an alien intelligence transmission. An alien message would be an earth-shattering revelation, and whoever controls access to the message, SETI argues, controls one of the world’s most important collections of megabytes.
So the institute decided it would be best to store the message with Filecoin, a database that is not under the exclusive control of any single authority. “They’re very sensitive about not wanting to be censored and whether to have something removed or tampered with,” Jennifer Bell, chief marketing officer at Protocol Labs, told me. Fortune.
This focus on tamper-resistant and open data is the most important value proposition for space scientists, according to Franck Marchis, senior astronomer at SETI and chief science officer at telescope startup Unistellar.
“I believe space travel is going to be the next big thing, and if we want young, smart, motivated people to work in space, we need to train them and give them access to the data now,” he said. told Fortune.
And besides aliens, defense contractor Lockheed Martin is also looking at Filecoin to secure communications between satellites. Satellites often transmit data to each other, but in the highly nationalistic and competitive arena of the cosmos, it is difficult to maintain confidence in the integrity of a message transmitted over a satellite grid.
To that end, Lockheed plans to launch IPFS – short for interplanetary file system – nodes to the sky to test the feasibility of using blockchain technology to secure satellite transmissions using Filecoin-affiliated Protocol Labs. (IPFS is the protocol underlying the Filecoin project.)
“The US and its allies are investing very heavily and very legitimately in lunar and interplanetary travel, and IPFS — it has interplanetary in its name — was designed from day one for this use case,” said Anshuman Prasad, partnerships lead at Protocol. Labs. Fortune.
The companies Fortune spoke to have already made space in the space for crypto and, despite the ongoing regulatory uncertainty, they are planning more launches this year.
Lockheed is preparing its LM 400 Technology Demonstrator spacecraft for launch in 2023, and on board will be IPFS nodes, according to the Filecoin Foundation. Cryptosats aims to launch its third satellite into the cosmos by the end of 2023, and SpaceChain also aims to send a node into space in a similar time frame. “We try to do one launch per year,” said CEO Beek Fortune.
The number of companies experimenting with blockchain in space is small but persistent, and while crypto may not be able to escape the scathing eye of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, it can escape Earth’s gravity just fine.