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NASA Considering Adoption of Permissioned Blockchain Technology for Flight Communication

Distributed Summary:

  • In a recent paper, NASA researcher outlines “Aviation Blockchain Infrastructure” for aircraft data
  • Would “enable aircraft privacy and anonymity while providing a secure … method for communication,” per research paper
  • Potential system could be built on Hyperledger Fabric and would not be decentralized

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has indicated an interest in leveraging permissioned blockchain technology for private and efficient aircraft communication.

A recent paper from Ronald Reisman, a researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center, described the potential for “the use of an open source permissioned blockchain framework to enable aircraft privacy and anonymity while providing a secure and efficient method for communication.”

In the paper’s abstract, Reisman goes into greater detail. Secure aircraft communication is of great concern to NASA and, naturally, it already has provisions for many types of security. However, it does not cover everything, such as denial-of-service attacks and protections for each aircraft. Blockchain technology could serve as an easy fix for some of the security problems NASA does not currently cover.

Although civilian aircraft would have a use for these measures, Reisman noted skepticism over their willingness to adopt a devised blockchain solution. Military air traffic data, on the other hand, is “considered, at minimum, Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), and more specifically is referred to as … ‘information that, if disclosed, would reveal vulnerabilities in the DoD [Department of Defense] critical infrastructure.’”

It is for these reasons that Reisman believes the military will provide the first implementation of such a system.

Reisman described the construction of an “Aviation Blockchain Infrastructure” (ABI) that all aircraft data is filtered through before going to its proper channels on the ground. The ABI would be based on Hyperledger Fabric and could control all aviation data to ensure that it only reaches the proper channels. The paper also described some alternative possible construction methods for such a project, but the ABI seems to be, in Reisman’s opinion, the most promising.

Large-scale shipping and supply chains are frequently cited as one of the areas that blockchain innovation (particularly permissioned blockchains) is most likely to expand into. If the U.S. government can provide concrete evidence that a blockchain system will be the most effective administrator for all the thousands of flights that the military or civilians take daily, that could provoke a serious spark for future innovation.

A point of possible dismay, however, is that this system is quite the opposite of decentralized. The ABI will be the main conduit for all relevant aircraft data if implemented and would remain entirely under federal purview.

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