A research project funded and co-run by NASA is looking to leverage the Ethereum blockchain’s smart contracts technology to automate spacecraft maneuvering while avoiding space debris.
In developments that could potentially have significant implications for deep space probes, NASA is putting resources behind a research project that fundamentally envisions the use of blockchain technology to enhance and make space communications and navigation more efficient and safer.
The research project, named the ‘Resilient Networking and Computing Paradigm’, will be lead by Dr. Jin Wei Kocsis, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Akron (UA).
The recipient of a three-year $330,000 grant, Kocsis will look to develop a cognitive architecture wherein spacecraft will no longer need to rely on crucial information from scientists on earth.
Instead, Ethereum-based smart contracts will help spacecraft ‘think on their own’ to detect and evade floating space debris that could prove significantly damaging in the event of a collision, an announcement from UA explains.
Dr. Kocsis added:
In this project, the Ethereum blockchain technology will be exploited to develop a decentralized, secure, and cognitive networking and computing infrastructure for deep space exploration. The blockchain consensus protocols will be further explored to improve the resilience of the infrastructure.
Kocsis hopes to see the decentralized architecture help the spacecraft also automate data gathering alongside other tasks, freeing up scientists back on earth to analyze the data rather than spending time poring over calculations of flight paths of deep space probes to anticipate environmental hazards.
“I hope to develop technology that can recognize environmental threats and avoid them, as well as complete a number of tasks automatically,” she added.
Details remain slim on the kind of Ethereum blockchain – public or private- being considered for the research project.
Still, the application of decentralized technology could lead to “next generation space networks”, according to NASA’s advanced communications program manager Thomas Kacpura at the Glenn Research Center. The research project could lead to “decentralized processing among NASA’s space network nodes in a secure fashion”, meaning a more responsive and resilient network that’s scalable which can also integrate today’s networks, the NASA official added.