Interview with Jeff Garzik: “Will Construct P2P Bitcoin Network In Space”

 Early Bitcoin-adopter plans to launch a network of mini-satellites to beam the blockchain of Bitcoin down to every corner of the earth - circumventing any attempts of censorship.

– These satellites will construct their own peer-to-peer network in space, running a subset of the Bitcoin code itself and fully validating all of the 20+ GB of the blockchain for a nearly trustless model, Jeff Garzik says. We want the blockchain distributed through as many sources as possible, not only terrestrial.

The nanosats Garzik’s referring to are miniature in size - they are also called cubesats. They range in sizes from 10x10x10cm up to 10x10x30cm. That may seem very small, but in space it’ll suffice to broadcast a radio signal that can reach antennas on Earth.
The general idea is to make the Bitcoin network available to anyone on Earth - as a backup, if other connections fail.

This should sit well with the growing number of Bitcoin processors, mining companies and services looking to triple-down on redundant connections to the Bitcoin network.

In the next step “cloud mining” might turn into “space mining” (it’s really cold up there - which is kinda great for cooling the really hot bitcoin processors of the long-term-future).

– I’ve always been interested in space since well before Bitcoin, says Jeff Garzik. But it’s been the realm of big governments, high net worth individuals and big money. Space has never been in the reach of the small start-up or the common man before. Now standardization is making space available to a much larger subset of organisations and individuals.

Standardization Key To Affordable Space Access

Garzik compares the nanosat-development to the common shipping container. As the container that now roams the seas on top of large freight tankers was standardized and commoditized it made worldwide shipments much cheaper and much more effective. The same is happening in the satellite space today.

– At the core a shipping container is a boring box, Garzik says. Similarly the standardization of cubesats will reduce costs of getting stuff into space with a factor of 30 or more in the near-term. Now 20-30 of these sats can hitch a ride on a single rocket - so launch slots will become tradable items. The market will set the price. In the longer run we’ll see costs reduced to a factor of 100 or 1000 thanks to competition from companies like SpaceX. Also, new “nano-rockets” will provide new opportunities.

Several Layers Of Near-Earth Internet Development

Getting a satellite into space in the longer-term future (a few years down the line) shouldn’t be more than 50.000 USD. But as there is a lot happening in the near-earth orbit layer, there are also lots of plans for the upper atmosphere. For instance Google is steaming ahead with their Project Loon - imagining lots of high-altitude balloons floating around the world beaming down internet access to the surface. Facebook is planning unmanned 747:s to fly around the world offering cloud connectivity 24/7.

Garzik started working on his satellite project in 2010, as soon as he got involved in the Bitcoin space (Garzik was famously the first person outside a mining company to receive an ASIC miner).

– The idea is really simple, lets say you have problems with local connectivity or firewalls are a problem for you, or even if the internet is attacked and goes down for a while - there should be a satellite available. You could even mine with this network alone within some technical limitations. This space network does not accept transactions from everywhere though, it’s mainly for transmitting the blockchain.

24 Satellites To Cover Every Inch

The plan is to launch at least six satellites at first, but the goal is to have 24 satellites up there to cover every inch of the habitable zones on our planet. Garzik is currently looking for sponsors for the upcoming launches. He’s financed about half of the development so far himself, having received donations for the other half. A date has not been set yet, but the plan is coming together.

– Right before launch we’ll load the blockchain unto the satellites, it takes just a few minutes for them to get up there, but a couple of days for them all to be positioned at the right spots above Earth. They have built-in thrusters to make minute corrections and get them into their correct orbits.

The satellites will use radio to communicate with land-based equipment in this first incarnation, but Garzik is looking at laser connections in the future for greater bandwidth. There’ll be multiple ground stations uploading each bitcoin block as it’s being found, so the satellites can beam them down to anyone who wants to listen, free of charge. There’ll be lots of idle time between blocks so the satellites can also transmit older blocks.

– When there’s time left over we can also send additional messages over the network as a value-add, Garzik says. That could be special messages, totally protected from DDOS-attacks and the like.

Deep Space Industries Behind The Design

The project is currently moving through ITAR:s export control oversight. All the parts are known (they exist today) and priced, and laid out in CAD, so the design can be evaluated by engineers. Deep Space Industries, located at NASA:s AMES facilities in California, were the contractor for the design of this “bitsat”, with Rick Tumlinson at the helm. The design was completed in late August.

– Governments are particularly sensitive to rockets, as they could be used as ICBM:s, so pre-launch there is a long list of legal check-boxes to clear for the cube-sat itself, to keep the launch provider happy and to follow ITU regulations. Hopefully we’re done sometime in November.

Garzik says the total project will cost several million USD to get off the ground. The more sponsors, donators and participants that agree to get on board the less each satellite will cost to launch. Each satellite is still in the several hundred of thousands of dollars range each in total cost to get them up to orbit. But that could change rapidly. For instance, Elon Musk and his SpaceX recently announced a new “micro-sat”-project to further lower costs. But Garzik sees several commercial applications hitching on the ride.

– I’m imagining really cold storage, for instance, on a satellite in space as a backup against Earth-based governments, Garzik says. I’m also looking to leave the project in the hands of a multiple-owner set-up. I’m a big proponent of open-source, I’ve been involved in the Linux space for a long time and I can see this satellite network being run by a foundation of some kind. Space should be for everyone, not just the super-rich.

One Of Several Other-Worldly Projects

As several other-worldly projects are gaining speed there’ll be plenty of opportunities to get hardware and new networks into space. Google is planning on mining asteroids for precious metals and plan to set up refueling stations in space. Mars One and others are planning settlements on and trips to Mars and all these different space-based organisations will need a currency to trade. The US dollar may not be the most suitable machine-to-machine currency outside of Earth… The Bitcoin network seems poised to not only cover the world - but also move into space and onto other planets in the years to come.

 
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