Researchers from the College of Engineering at Villanova University are behind a blockchain project that will be launched into space Thursday night to test the viability and trustworthiness of the technology and its transactions in orbit.
Adjunct Professor of Engineering Hasshi Sudler is behind the project, and has been working on space-related projects since his time at the university as an undergrad. But the launch Thursday will be his — and the university’s — first time completing a trip to space.
Sudler is working with grad student Alejandro Gomez on the project. The pair will be testing a recent consensus protocol known as proof of authority, a means of confirming transactions on the blockchain through validator nodes that store data, securing the network. Villanova is working with Teachers in Space, a nonprofit that developed the Serenity educational CubeSat satellite that will launch on the Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha vehicle Thursday night from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Serenity will carry a suite of data collection sensors and provide its data in response to requests by amateur radio operators. The experiment uses a private Ethereum blockchain, and the satellite will remain in low Earth orbit for about a month. Blockchain experiments will take place for the first 15 days. The satellite will be destroyed on its return to earth, but Sudler said they’ll have all the data they need collected and stored on earth.
It will be important to understand how blockchain technology operates in space as the potential for conducting transactions off of earth grows, the professor said. Satellite transactions over the blockchain will be a way to securely request, transfer and pay for data between satellites. The tech will also support the space economy, as more humans will likely spend time in space in the future.
“We’re looking at the beginnings of people living and operating in space in longer moments,” Sudler said. “People will eventually will need to do transactions there, whether it’s for buying something or transmitting information. You don’t have an economy until you can transact money or information.”
This experiment will be testing how the satellite communicates with blockchain nodes on earth, sending text and image text files to create various loads on the blockchain. All transactions are permanently recorded on the blockchain ledger, and Sudler and Gomez will measure the impact of high traffic on the blockchain network as well as any impacts on the transactions themselves as the satellite enters and leaves the Earth’s horizon to the ground station.
It’s a “very ongoing” investigation, he said. Sudler and his team were able to tour the launch station in California this week, with a close up of its control room and the rocket itself.
They’re not the first team to investigate blockchain in space — JPMorgan recently deployed a Consensys Quorum blockchain onto one of Gomspace’s low earth orbit satellites to test the first bank-led tokenized value transfer in space. But as blockchain technology is still in its “infancy” itself, it’s important to learn as much as you can.
“If blockchain is reliable on earth, the question we’re after is, how will it behave in space?” Sudler said.
You can watch the launch live on Thursday, Sept. 2, on Everyday Astronaut’s YouTube channel at 9 p.m. EST.
Update: The rocket did not make it.
@TechnicallyPHL interviewed Villanova ECE adjunct Hasshi Sudler about his efforts to test how #blockchain technology will act in space. Unfortunately, the Firefly Alpha rocket carrying his experiment exploded shortly after launch last week. https://t.co/pZTgjeMdYP pic.twitter.com/9tp5SSYMwX
— Villanova Engineering (@NovaEngineer) September 7, 2021