Until recently, it was only nations that had the resources for space exploration. In 1973 private space missions were simply unthinkable. Who would bankroll the $25.4bn it cost the United States to launch the Apollo missions? The richest American at the time was thought to be Howard Hughes (certainly a man with the right ethos), but whose personal wealth topped out at $6.4 billion in today’s money,
However since the Millennium, private space exploration has developed into a viable and potentially lucrative sector. Jeff Bezos ($143bn), Elon Musk ($20bn), and Richard Branson ($5.1bn) have invested in space tourist and transportation ventures, and SpaceX has designed and launched its own rockets; in 2012, a SpaceX rocket even took supplies to the International Space Station.
Outside of rocket development, companies are busy preparing to survey nearby asteroids and even the Moon for precious materials. For the growing commercial space sector, the rewards far outweigh the financial and human risks associated: the Davida asteroid, in the solar system’s main asteroid belt, is thought to hold upwards of $10,000 quadrillion worth of precious metals and rare minerals.
Can We Decentralize Space Exploration?
Many are enchanted by the idea of the human journey into space and most believe it will happen: SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, says he hopes to breathe his last on the first human colony on Mars.
But some hope that as humanity begins to pass the ‘final frontier’, it can do so as a community.
SpaceBit is a company looking to use blockchain technology to fund and operate space exploration missions. The team argues that blockchain technology is a far more effective means to coordinate global expertise than a centralized organization.
The founder, Pavlo Tanasyuk, argues that rather than relying on national governments or the incredibly wealthy, SpaceBit will encourage private participation through a decentralized form of governance. “Why can’t people themselves determine the next space initiative rather than a government or Elon Musk?”, he said.
Tanasyuk said SpaceBit’s main objective is to use blockchain to create a new cooperative and funding structure for space exploration. Due to the significant capital costs involved in building the technology and means to get into outer-orbit, many space companies go through successive funding rounds without actually getting any closer to their principal objective.
Considering that companies like Telegram and EOS raised over a billion dollars from members of the public, Spacebit thinks then the same funding model could be used to provide adequate funding for space exploration.
One SpaceBit Closer… To The Moon!
The commercialization of space is a very real prospect and Jan Woerner, the director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA) said this week there was a place for private and corporate investment into space exploration, provided it was done in cooperation with national governments.
SpaceBit is currently going through a round of funding and if successful, hopes to be able to launch its first satellite to the moon in December 2019, in collaboration with two other British-based space companies. The current plan is to use the satellite to scan the lunar surface and send data on back to Earth to be tokenized and sold on to the highest bidder.
As the moon is believed to be very rich in minerals and rare Earth metals, Tanasyuk argues SpaceBit’s data would show signs of deposits and other resources that would put it in high demand among companies interested in sending lunar mining missions.
Although the focus is predominantly on the satellite, the mission will also be a proof-of-concept to determine how effective SpaceBit’s collaboration model is, and whether it could work for more ambitious space projects.
SpaceBit received media attention when it was first established in 2014, originally as a service to put private keys into orbit. Since co-founder Professor Ian Angell left the project, SpaceBit has maintained a low-profile and Tanasyuk says it has had time to re-evaluate its main objective and gather together a team of blockchain engineers.
In some senses, SpaceBit’s relaunch back into the public eye is very timely. Space exploration is no longer the stuff of science fiction and blockchain technology has progressed from relative obscurity to something governments and companies alike are seriously interested in.
Tanasyuk’s ultimate aim is for SpaceBit to use blockchain technology to make space a viable venture for everyone rather than super-wealthy: “when Apollo went up it was a feeling that we [humans] were all going into space and not just the Americans…part of SpaceBit’s goal is to recreate this”, he said.
To “reach for the stars” means to have high or ambitious aims in life.
Although blockchain has strong potential on Earth, can it go beyond?
Disclaimer: The author is not invested in any cryptocurrency or token mentioned in this article, but holds investments in other digital assets.