NASA recently awarded a grant of $330,000 USD (approximately $413,000 CAD) to the University of Akron to research the potential of blockchain technology to improve space communications.
Dr. Jen Wei, assistant professor of computer engineering at the University of Akron, leads a team of researchers to develop a Resilient Networking and Computing Paradigm (RNCP) for space exploration.
The further we explore into space the longer it takes for the machines we use, such as satellites, to receive command signals from Earth. NASA wants ways to reduce the time it takes for their exploration vehicles to receive signals and react to potential threats in space. One possible solution may come from Dr. Wei’s research.
“The work done by [Dr.] Wei will advance cognitive communications for NASA science and exploration by developing a resilient networking and computing paradigm that will improve the efficiency of space communications,” noted a post on the University of Akron’s website.
NASA using Ethereum in space
The team plans to use the Ethereum network as the backbone to run the RCNP. Their research aims to combine the decentralized and robust nature of blockchain technology with AI and deep learning techniques.
“We will employ the blockchain technique to design a secure and decentralized infrastructure for processing the massive data for space exploration and related science,” according to a synopsis of their research.
A major hurdle of space exploration today is the distance between the machines in space and their Earth-based controllers. The distance creates a time lag between machine and operator. Semi-autonomous machines eliminate some of the barriers created by this time lag, by allowing the machines to make some decisions for themselves.
Avoiding space junk
Collision with man-made space debris is one of the biggest threats to machines in space. The RCNP will use blockchain technology to track space debris. The network could then automate the course corrections needed to safely move space vehicles out of debris paths.
The RCNP would also use collected data to allow space vehicles to predict and react to other operational threats.
This automation would drastically reduce the need for human operators to manage the safety of space vehicles. It also by-passes problems created by the immense distance between operators on Earth and satellites in space.
Safe data collection
The team is also looking at ways to use the RCNP to improve the robustness of data collection in space. A decentralized blockchain would ensure there is no degradation or loss of the critical data collected by vehicles in space.
The team led by Dr. Wei has only just begun research on their RCNP, however, the technology looks very promising. The power of decentralized blockchain networks may lead to a new era in space exploration.