With distributed ledgers emerging as technological solutions across a wide range of sectors, it’s no surprise that NASA is now considering the applications of blockchain technology.
A NASA presentation titled “Bitcoin, Blockchains and Efficient Distributed Spacecraft Mission Control,” noted that blockchain technology could have useful applications in distributed spacecraft missions involving multiple elements.
A Brave New World
In particular, smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain could be used in NASA’s SensorWeb program, which develops an interoperable environment for a diverse set of satellite sensors. Artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies could be further integrated to make space-based sensor networks more efficient and responsive.
In September, NASA awarded a $333,000 grant to University of Akron (UA) Assistant Professor Jin Wei (also known as Jin Kocsis or Jin Wei Kocsis) to research how to make space hardware smarter and more autonomous. This is an important requirement for deep space missions, where the communication lag makes it impossible to monitor and telecommand space probes in real time. Deep space probes, and planetary missions such as those by the Mars rovers, must be equipped with onboard AI for autonomous operation.
“I hope to develop technology that can recognize environmental threats and avoid them, as well as complete a number of tasks automatically,” said Wei. “I am honored that NASA recognized my work, and I am excited to continue challenging technology’s ability to think and do on its own.”
The research program, titled “RNCP: A Resilient Networking and Computing Paradigm for NASA Space Exploration,” wants to improve the automation, environment-awareness and intelligence of NASA space probes.
“To meet this requirement, this project intends to develop a resilient networking and computing paradigm (RNCP) that consists of two essential parts: (1) a secure and decentralized computing infrastructure and (2) a data-driven cognitive networking management architecture,” reads the RNCP summary. “Furthermore, we will evaluate the performance of our proposed RNCP in various space communication environments.”
A high-level project chart reveals that blockchain technology plays an important role in the RNCP concept. Other key technologies and approaches are software-defined networking, deep learning (a branch of AI), fuzzy logic, game theory and contract theory. Besides the main goal of supporting NASA’s space missions, the RNCP project wants to contribute to the development of next-generation computing infrastructure.
“Such technology could be critical to the next few decades of space exploration,” noted Futurism. “With NASA currently planning missions to distant worlds like Alpha Centauri and beyond as soon as 2069, unmanned spacecraft that can think and react autonomously to their surroundings could ensure our ability to gather information far from our terrestrial home.”
Rocket Fuel for Industrial Applications
ETHNews interviewed Thomas Kacpura, advanced communications program manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. According to Kacpura, RNCP research will rely on the Ethereum blockchain. The project will likely have important implications on NASA’s space networks and may eventually impact the private sector as well.
“The objective here is the application of blockchain and distributed intelligence to our space and ground network communication assets,” said Kacpura. “If successful, the overall objective will be to incorporate Dr. Wei’s research in our overall portfolio to ultimately optimize our communication networks."
It’s worth noting that the smart combinations of blockchain technology, AI, sensor networks and software-defined networking technologies, which NASA will study and develop, could be reused in emerging sectors such as self-driving cars and the Internet of Things (IoT). Therefore, NASA’s RNCP project could also enable important industrial applications.
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