When venture capitalist Tim Draper lost 40,000 Bitcoins in the Mt. Gox hack back in 2014, he was sure the incident would spell doom for Bitcoin, which was then trading at $600 per coin.
But a few months later, after seeing that Bitcoin's value didn't plummet to zero, as he had feared, he won the auction of $18 million for 30,000 Bitcoins claimed from the Silk Road by the U.S. Marshals Service. His investment is now worth about $330 million (at $11,000 per Bitcoin). "[Blockchain] is the greatest technology since the internet," Draper told Bloomberg last year. "This is a sociological transformation, it's a movement."
So what's the Silicon Valley billionaire and co-founder of storied VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson up to these days? He's advising and investing in startups and is cultivating one that wants to bring blockchain technology to space. Specifically, SpaceChain is building the world's first open-source satellite network that runs on blockchain nodes. That means the network uses satellites as blockchain sites for data processing and in-space data storage. The firm is also conducting research to enable space travel and related technology.
A talented roster
Draper has been known to spot trends. He's backed the likes of Hotmail, Skype, Tesla and other hot start-ups in early investment rounds. But a blockchain-supported satellite network that runs space apps? It all came about when he mentored a student named Zuo Zheng in 2016 at Draper University, the school for entrepreneurs that Draper founded in 2012. That's where Zheng found the inspiration for SpaceChain, and sold Draper on the out-of-this-world vision.
So what's SpaceChain all about?
On social media, the blockchain startup announced plans to launch three low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites in 2018. LEO satellites are known to be cost efficient compared to geosynchronous (GEO) satellites. Through a spokesperson, Draper says that "SpaceChain will create a new ecosystem that connects millions of businesses, developers and consumers with easy-to-access aerospace and blockchain technology."
'Houston, here comes decentralization'
SpaceChain has created software to run a decentralized satellite system that advances satellite communications, and provides an alternative for data transmission, storage and other applications a thousands of miles above ground. Such a distributed framework aligns with other blockchain projects that reduce the need for central planning and allow for collaborative work much like Apple's App Store.
Proponents of projects like SpaceChain often cite the dysfunctions plaguing NASA and other bureaucracies that are spending precious resources on red tape rather than actual space technology innovation. Budgets are politicized. Pet projects (such as climate research) get money, but in Washington, these decisions are often more about scoring political points than accomplishing humanity's age-old quest of survival or flying to the stars.
It's estimated that NASA has spent $20 billion on cancelled projects from 1992 to 2012. That massive sum could instead have created space medicine, agricultural methods outside planet Earth and celestial research to create freshwater, bring seeds to other planets to enable food to be grown and recycle bodily waste. When governments such as the U.S. and China get involved in creating and deploying satellite systems, however, such projects often encounter high costs, delays and technical issues. Proponents of blockchain say that's the track record of taxpayer-funded, politically-appointed red tape.
And that's where the likes of Tim Draper, Elon Musk (SpaceX), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) come to bring focus and urgency to the lofty cause of space colonization as a privately-funded enterprise.
Blockchain in space
One area that could see disruption as a result of efforts like SpaceChain to develop and deploy blockchain nodes in space is satellite and space-station communications. Jeff Garzik, a former Bitcoin core developer, is co-founder and chief technology officer of SpaceChain.
The team adheres to a philosophy that values international collaboration, where open-source protocols grant access to multiple parties, anytime anywhere. "We envision inter-satellite links which involve satellite-to-satellite communications," said Garzik in a company announcement. "In order to have a decentralized mesh network, you first need satellite-to-satellite communications." The team aims to develop a satellite-related platform for apps built based on the popular QTum cryptocurrency.
Satellites hurl across the sky at dizzying speeds, and mankind's horizons are revealed with each new sunrise. On Earth, visionaries are moving just as fast to create what they hope are game-changing tools that help humans thrive in space.
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