The democratization and commercialization of space exploration and of space as an enterprise is finally seeming to be within the grasp of independent organizations across our planet. May 30, 2020 was a tremendously historic day for the number of important events which occurred during the SpaceX and NASA crewed commercial rocket launch to the International Space Station, underlined by the fact that the mission was successful. Amongst the many exclamations of adoration produced by space enthusiasts and professionals alike in response to the many significant events of the day, including the launching of an American built rocket and capsule on American soil for the first time in nine years, was that the rocket was assembled by a commercial company, not by a governmental one. This fact could very well be considered the genesis of a new era in space exploration.
Now, following this successful performance, SpaceX has become the frontrunner of the
commercial industry of space operations, providing proof to any who may have doubted the feasibility and scope of such an industry that this endeavor is not only possible, but essential. Consider, if you will, a scenario where NASA, ESA, and the other prominent governmental space agencies are no longer required to do all research, collect all data, or launch every mission regarding space by themselves.
Instead, they can focus on those projects which require the highest number of funds, support, and risks while leaving intermediary research and missions to the smaller startup companies. This approach can help maximize the efficiency of the limited budgets of such governmental organizations. For example: a number of commercial space companies launch missions to the Moon and other bodies close to Earth to collect scientific findings; start working on asteroid mining, regolith extraction on the Moon, and other commercial enterprises; and begin sending their own operations towards Mars, collecting data that could prove to be crucial to the operations of NASA as they continue to plan their own large-scale missions to the surface of Mars. Meanwhile, NASA need not directly concern themselves with these smaller projects and can instead conserve funds and resources for their larger missions whilst still supporting the startups and sharing in the benefits of the collected data from their research. Such operations are perfect for these independent organizations as the risk involved is somewhat low as
missions to low-Earth orbit, the ISS, and the surface of the Moon have all been done many times by NASA; the water has already been charted here. These researches are still well worth conducting, however, which is why they would still be done, but without the direct involvement of those agencies with much larger funding. These agencies’’ attention should be turned outward towards the riskier undertakings and the next steps forward, rather than the last steps forward. This inclusion of the commercial space industry in space exploration is where blockchain can prove wildly beneficial.
Blockchain has been an oft shared concept in many intellectual circles since its first widespread
use in 2008, where it was used to create the cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin, and especially in the last few years as most every industry has discovered applications for blockchain in their fields as well.
Blockchain is, simply put, a public and decentralized database used to securely and transparently store information within units known as “blocks”, which are then continuously “chained” to additional blocks as more data and transactions occur within its network. All of the transactions and data contained within each block is easily obtainable by every member in the network and each block can be systematically and simply traced back to all previous and future blocks due to this chain method. These blocks are therefore protected by the chain they are attached to, so if someone attempts to hack into and edit a block’s data, the block will change and the chain will show that it no longer belongs where it is and has therefore been tampered with. Furthermore, the system connects all users on the network together so each member is able to see any change made and either acknowledge or reject the validity of new information before it can be added to the chain; this is called a peer-to-peer (P2P) service. This technology is further supported by smart contracts, which are self-executed contracts that
act automatically and autonomously within blockchain without the need for an intermediary party, providing additional uses in many sectors.
The sector which is likely still the most frequently used application of blockchain, however, is
the one which started it all: finance. Blockchain has given rise to a form of fundraising known as an Initial Coin Offering (ICO). This ICO works as a form of crowdfunding which offers its supporters a digital coin, or “utility token”, which is representative of the products, research data, services, etc. of the company’s laborers, in exchange for their financial support. This form of fundraising presents a straightforward and risk-free undertaking for investors thanks to the blockchain system being decentralized, as there is no intermediary needed to manage funds and contracts, just an automated system that distributes funds when goals have been met or research proves successful, or else returns them if the project fails. Such a novel source of funding is essential for non-government space agencies who require substantial amounts of financial support to complete their projects, but that are fortunate enough to have much to offer investors now in the form of the utility tokens.
The first of the options given to a financer with a utility token is to keep the token, knowing that
it will appreciate in value at the successful conclusion of the project, and then selling the token to an interested party for a profit. Such investors now have a more incentivizing reason to fund such programs as the space startups have much of value to offer their, causing both the investor and the investor to be pleased with the outcome. This is a straightforward funding option which will result in many more successful programs, the products of which can then be shared with both commercial and government space agencies.
The second use for a utility token is the more interesting of the two as it considers the situation
where the financier keeps the token because they find what it represents, special access to the outcome of the funded company’s project, to be worth more than the monetary value of the thing. For example, a company specializing in satellite manufacturing could help to finance a research team working to develop a new propellant for satellite launches. In return for backing this team, the satellite company is given a utility token which provides them with unique access to the propellant; perhaps to have access to the fuel before their competitors or maybe to reduce costs on fuel purchases so they can launch their satellites for cheaper. In the same way, a national organization such as NASA could fund the work of a smaller company, such as Space Decentral’s Coral project or SpaceX’s Mars operations, to expedite the development process and in return gain quick access to the research data of those projects, benefitting
their own Moon and Mars missions.
Additional commercialization and collaboration is also made more practical due to blockchain’s
process of “tokenization”, which is its ability to turn physical assets into digital ones stored in the
blockchain database. This tokenization provides an opportunity to make the collaborations between space companies more efficient and less prone to error. By taking assets such as spacecraft and tokenizing them, separate companies become able to work on different segments of the same craft, all the while being able to clearly track all of the work and components involved. Using the transparency of the public blockchain network, the audit trails for each asset and every aspect of the craft will be traceable through the entire process, so it will become a non-issue to check for mistakes and miscommunications between the partnered companies.
The idea of an enterprise developed in this fashion is fascinating as it details the spinning of an
elaborate web of collaboration among private space organizations and their projects; an ecosystem in which companies help to fund one another and share the byproducts of each other’s research. These are the beginnings of the democratized space industry, propelled forward by the events of May 30, 2020 into the new era of commercialization in space exploration, in which a surge of energy over the next three to five years and beyond will undoubtedly be seen as these commercial companies continue to confront the frontier, inspired by the success of the SpaceX launch, and as investors begin to turn their eyes on this new opportunity. This wedding between space exploration and blockchain is nothing short
of astounding in the potential that it presents for the dynamic change of space in the years to come.

Author's Bio: 

I am a computer science professor. Being a tech enthusiast I keep close tabs on trends and will be glad to share and discuss the latest wrapups in the field with the community.