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Blockstream’s Satellites Are Active

For one reason or another, the idea of cryptocurrency connecting to outer space has intrigued people for years now. Some might suggest that cryptocurrency could be a sort of starting point for financial transactions in future colonies on the Moon or on Mars. For that matter, something called Marscoin even came into being a few years ago, with the stated goal of bootstrapping the colonization of Mars. These ideas are a little bit outlandish, or at least geared toward the next 10 or 20 years. In the meantime however, the idea of a blockchain in space has more practical applications.

You may have heard a short while back about the first bitcoin transaction conducted in outer space. If not, a Canadian gaming and tech website explained what happened in a piece on interesting facts people might not know about bitcoin. Basically, a bitcoin transaction was completed beyond the Armstrong limit of 20km above the Earth. A paper wallet was attached to a 3D model of a physical bitcoin, attached to a weather balloon, and launched up to space, while a team on the ground sent bitcoin to that wallet. Thus, a piece of paper above the atmosphere suddenly became imbued with financial value. It was definitely a publicity stunt, as the aforementioned article noted, but it may somewhat sneakily have been the first example of an interesting concept: space facilitating blockchain transactions.

More recently, a similar if more tech-savvy example of this concept made some headlines that could potentially be quite impactful in the long run. A company Blockstream essentially contracted (or, technically, leased) a few satellites with the express intent of using them to handle blockchain transactions that are quite literally out of this world. And as of August of 2017, they pulled it off. It was then that we learned that the first “Blockchain Satellite” from Blockstream had forwarded its first transaction.

While this too might at first seem like something of a stunt, the purpose is actually significant. Blockstream intends to use this and other satellites as a way to beam the bitcoin blockchain all over the worlds, and thus make bitcoin accessible to people who might live in areas with poor internet connections, limited electricity, or simply unreliable local currencies. Much has already been made about bitcoin’s potential as a sort of boon, if not cultural catalyst for people and communities that are unbanked, and something like Blockstream’s initiative could turn that potential into reality.

Right now it appears we’re still fairly early in the company’s quest to use satellites to bring bitcoin and the blockchain to the world. But the mere fact that it works is fascinating, and it’s certainly something to keep an eye on. At any rate, it’s likely going to impact society a little bit more than something like Marscoin in the near future!

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