Blockstream Satellite: Broadcasting Bitcoin from Space

Blockstream Satellite: Broadcasting Bitcoin from Space

Yesterday a video teaser from blockchain technology company Blockstream created waves of excitement among enthusiasts of both cryptocurrencies and space. Most participants speculated that Blockstream was about to implement the idea, promoted by Bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik (among others), of a satellite system that streams the Bitcoin blockchain to the whole planet from space. The speculations were, indeed, correct.

Today, the company is announcing Blockstream Satellite, a new service that broadcasts real-time Bitcoin blockchain data from satellites in space to almost everyone on the planet. Blockstream Satellite covers across two-thirds of the Earth’s land mass and, according to the company, additional coverage areas will soon come online to reach almost every person on the planet by the end of the year.

“Bitcoin is a powerful and transformative internet native digital money that has blazed a trail of disruption, with its full potential yet to unfold. Because it’s permissionless, Bitcoin enables anyone to freely create new financial applications and other innovations that use the blockchain that haven’t been possible before,” said Blockstream co-founder and CEO Adam Back.

“Today’s launch of Blockstream Satellite gives even more people on the planet the choice to participate in Bitcoin. With more users accessing the Bitcoin blockchain with the free broadcast from Blockstream Satellite, we expect the global reach to drive more adoption and use cases for Bitcoin, while strengthening the overall robustness of the network.”

The Blockstream Satellite network currently consists of three geosynchronous satellites at various positions over Earth that cover four continents: Africa, Europe, South America and North America. Blockstream is leasing bandwidth on existing, commercial, geosynchronous satellites: Galaxy 18 (covering North America), Eutelsat 113 (covering South America) and two transponders on the Telstar 11N satellite (one covering Africa and one covering Europe).

Ground stations, called teleports, uplink the public Bitcoin blockchain data to the satellites in the network, which then broadcast the data to large areas across the globe. Additional satellites and teleports are being added to achieve worldwide coverage by the end of the year.

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The Blockstream service is expected to be especially useful to people in remote regions of developing world with poor internet connectivity.

“When I first heard of Blockstream Satellite, I immediately recognized its great potential to bring Bitcoin to regions of the world where internet access is either unavailable or expensive,” said Tim Akinbo, who runs the only bitcoin node in West Africa. “Not to mention providing redundant access when internet access is temporarily unavailable.”

Blockstream Satellite uses GNU Radio, an open-source software development platform for Software-Defined Radio (SDR), expected to reduce costs and streamline development by eliminating the need for specialized hardware. Blockstream Satellite utilizes the Fast Internet Bitcoin Relay Engine (FIBRE), an open-source protocol backed by several years of history operating and studying the Bitcoin Relay Network. “Together, these open-source technologies power the Blockstream Satellite network enabling Blockstream to provide this free service reliably and cost effectively,” noted the Blockstream press release.

“Anyone can receive the signal with a small satellite dish (similar to a consumer satellite TV dish) and a USB SDR (software-defined radio) interface,” notes the Blockstream Satellite FAQ. “The total equipment cost for a user is only about $100. The software is free. The software interface is the open-source GNU Radio software, which is the receiver. GNU Radio will send data to the FIBRE protocol, which is the Bitcoin process and is where the blocks reside.”

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Finding Blockchain-Based Security Solutions for the 3D Printing Economy

3d sampl

3D printing promises no less than the possibility to treat the physical world of atoms like the virtual world of bits, allowing users to “email” all sorts of physical objects — that is, they can send validated specs to be 3D printed by a recipient with one click.

In 3D printing, or “additive manufacturing,” successive layers of material are added to create the desired object, which can be of almost any shape or geometry. There’s still a perception that 3D printing is an expensive and overhyped way to manufacture cheap plastic toys, but the reality is that today’s 3D printers can process a wide and increasing range of materials and complex designs.

With comparatively low manufacturing costs — and no shipping costs — 3D printing is expected to have an important industrial impact. Personal 3D printing has been compared to the beginnings of the personal computing industry in the 1980s, and 3D printing enthusiasts envision an explosive growth of the sector similar to the growth of the internet in the 1990s.

According to Gartner, a technology consulting firm, 3D printing is now starting to push its way into manufacturing operations that require quick-to-market builds, unique design requirements and low-volume production runs.

It’s worth noting that 3D printing is rapidly advancing toward printing military-grade hardware. This and other advanced applications of 3D printing are still reserved for industrial manufacturing. Following a typical contemporary trend, it can be expected to reach the average consumer soon.

The 3D printing industry is making advances toward printing electronic components and entire devices, as well as food, drugs and even organic tissue and entire organs for transplants. So, we can expect that a 3D printing economy will develop to encompass local manufacturing of all sorts of goods, from the simple to the complex, from public domain or commercial design specs.

The 3D printing economy is expected to have a multi-tiered ecosystem with complex virtual supply chains, and, of course, it will include payment layers. For example, smart contracts embedded in 3D printable goods could enforce use-based pricing models.

Securing 3D Code on the Blockchain

Of course, the devil is in the details. What if fake designs end up in 3D printed goods intended for important security-critical applications? How will the industry combat piracy?

The Secure Additive Manufacturing Platform (SAMPL) project, developed by a consortium of German companies and institutions coordinated by PROSTEP AG, wants to develop a comprehensive security solution for additive manufacturing. The project is sponsored by the German Ministry of Economics and Energy for a period of three years, with $3 million (€2.6 million) in funding. The SAMPL team presented a concept demonstrator at the past Hannover Fair.

“The process starts with the generation of the digital 3D print data and the exchange of the data with a 3D print service provider,” notes the project outline. “[A] digital license management based on Blockchain technology will be integrated into the data exchange solution OpenDXM GlobalX of PROSTEP AG… Blockchain technology is also applicable to the representation of transactions in the sense of licensing. Here, instead of a bitcoin, a printer obtains the license to print a component.”

“We want to use the blockchain to mediate between designers, print service providers and end users, thus making license management safer — from generating print data to the exchange [between] service providers and the marking of workpieces, for example by means of RFID chips,” explained Felix Engelmann and Henning Kopp, scientists at the Ulm Institute for Distributed Systems, in a recent interview.

The developers expect the SAMPL project to act as a pathfinder and open up new markets in the field of additive manufacturing and other areas of application in which the authenticity of product data has to be ensured.

In its announcement of the integration of blockchain technology in OpenDXM GlobalX, PROSTEP notes that 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize value-added chains such as prototype construction and spare parts management.

“When it comes to the globally distributed manufacture of components, it must be guaranteed that only authorized persons have access to the data, that only the original data is printed, and that this data cannot be misused to manufacture pirate copies following its authorized use,” reads the statement. “This is particularly important when security-critical components are involved.”

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