Qtum and SpaceChain, are making the concept of an orbital blockchain platform a reality. Source: Shutterstock

Blockchain in the sky is now a reality

BLOCKCHAIN in space: it sounds like the whimsy of one of the more far-out science fiction writers, a space opera sub-plot befitting Alastair Reynolds or Cixin Liu.

But two organizations, Qtum and SpaceChain, are making the concept a reality. In fact, the first satellite-based full blockchain nodes may be currently floating above your head as you read this. And there are plenty more on their way: the project was in full swing as of March last year, and funding has been secured for a complete globe-spanning network of satellites.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised – after all, who would have predicted 10 years ago that one especially ‘driven’ individual (you may substitute your own adjective) would place an electric car in space, just to prove it was possible?

All of which begs the question, why?

We spoke to Mike Palencia, CIO of Qtum (pronounced “quantum”) whose technology powers the sky-bound project. He clarified the motives behind the concept and covered some of the detail of interest to observers of the ever-changing landscape of blockchain technology in business, and what it might offer.

“Even before we launched [as a company], blockchain already had its uses,” Palencia said. “Verification, registration, and traceability make [blockchain] unique. The first feature of blockchain is immovability.”

The blockchain is taking its first baby steps into the mainstream, and not necessarily in the form of currencies. MediBloc and Ink, two companies are already using the transparent nature of the public ledger into commercial spheres. Ink, for instance, allows creative artists the ability to control their output and ensures creativity is recompensed properly by royalty payments – efficiently removing traditional middlemen, such as record companies.

MediBloc creates immutable records of medical products’ progress from production, down the supply chain to the individual hospital, or even dispensing pharmacy. In a world where regulatory pressure on the medical sector is increasing, this type of counterfeit-proof tracking is critical to trust in products’ provenance.

“We want to open up blockchain and allow true decentralization,” says Palencia. His organization’s credo is to become the public blockchain for business, and its development efforts are pushing its blockchain-powered solutions to very different verticals, such as telecoms, logistics, anti-counterfeiting, manufacturing, and of course, the financial sector.

The latter is perhaps at the forefront of the raft of distributed, public blockchain technology in terms of public perception. The furor over Bitcoin’s value against fiat currencies at least made the concept more talked-about and brought the underpinning mechanisms to a wider, more practically-minded business community, keen to exploit the underpinnings.

Blockchain can, of course, be regulated, if necessary, but by placing the full nodes (the means by which blockchain is validated) into orbit, unwanted influence or control can be removed. Unlike the international coverage of maritime law, there is no accepted jurisprudence in space (yet), so the network of satellites powering Qtum & SpaceChain’s blockchain technologies can escape all influence, if necessary.

The wider reaction to blockchain depends on where you happen to be on the globe. Some countries, such as China, are looking to stop cryptocurrencies particularly operating behind the so-called great firewall of China. The Japanese and Koreans are very much more conciliatory and accepting, and the US is seeking to regulate ICOs but reflects the broader picture; equivocacy for now.

Qtum preserves the transparency of blockchain by ensuring its underlying codebase is open: the marvelously-titled SpaceChain OS is based on Sylix OS (an open source OS for embedded systems). It’s also lightweight – the initial versions of SpaceChain OS ran very nicely on the standard maker’s platform of a Raspberry Pi & SD card. Those paranoid about “commercial” influence can rest assured that the power of the satellite node blanket circling above will be subject to any public scrutiny.

Qtum’s network can and will adapt, of course. “Instant replication allows developments and updates to take place immediately,” reports Palencia. This, then, is no “fire and forget” satellite rig, rather it’s a system by which businesses and organizations can base their blockchain-based activities without worrying about terrestrial, locally-determined regulations, influence & corruption, or indeed, the whole network becoming outdated.

“Big companies are developing and building a moonbase and even exploring Mars,” muses Palencia, “so why not blockchain?”

Why not indeed? As governments cut back on space projects and run scared from Bitcoin, maybe it’s time the commercial sector stepped up and donned the mantle.