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According to crypto lore, bitcoin’s meteoric rise will one day culminate in a trip to the moon. It’s not there yet, but Blockstream is trying to take it one step closer with the launch of Blockstream Satellite.
The project, which is currently in its beta stage, uses leased satellites to broadcast bitcoin to users across the world. After receiving blocks from the Blockstream “teleport” stations, the satellites transmit them around the globe so that, with the proper equipment, you can download and update a full node even without internet access. By the end of the year, Blockstream anticipates that almost everyone in the world will live in a region covered by a satellite.
This is a big deal, considering that half of the world’s population does not have Internet access, and those are often the very people who could benefit the most from decentralized currency.
From the announcement:
Blockstream Satellite is the world’s first service that broadcasts real-time Bitcoin transactions and blocks from a group of satellites in space. With the service, everyone will have free access to the Bitcoin network, in any corner of the world, including the estimated four billion people not currently connected to the Internet, due to lack of availability or affordability.
However, you will still need Internet access to actually transact on the bitcoin network, although it is probable that communications technologies will be developed to facilitate such off-grid transactions.
Connecting to Blockstream Satellite will require some specialized equipment as well as technical aptitude. Blockstream estimates the total cost, aside from a computer, is about $100.
Reaction to Blockstream’s announcement has been mostly positive. BitGo engineer Jameson Lopp declared the satellite network to be a “giant leap for financial sovereignty & privacy”:
That's one small step for Bitcoin, one giant leap for financial sovereignty & privacy. https://t.co/Erswc7sy9L
— Jameson Lopp (@lopp) August 15, 2017
Developer Peter Todd said the move was “no gimmick” and could help bitcoin survive an attack by a hostile government.
This is no gimmick: could mean the difference between BTC working, and major reorgs, if a govt. tried to censor Bitcoin nodes. Solid work. https://t.co/QeyhOxk5Ct
— Peter Todd (@petertoddbtc) August 15, 2017
Chain architect Oleg Andreev implied that the talking points about making bitcoin available to people in lesser-developed regions of the world are more or less a marketing ploy, but said the satellite network provided an important infrastructure for the bitcoin community.
Blockstream Satellite is not about kids in Africa, it's about Bitcoin hodlers funding a brave new infrastructure for themselves.
— Oleg Andreev (@oleganza) August 15, 2017
However, some notable figures raised questions about Blockstream’s satellite network. Security engineer Kristov Atlas suggested that the satellite network would not really secure bitcoin against government actors since a hostile government could “command satellite users to cease transmission of Bitcoin-related data.”
If the govt wants to mess with Bitcoin they can easily command satalite users to cease transmission of Bitcoin-related data.
— Kristov Atlas 🇺🇲 (@kristovatlas) August 15, 2017
Some of the harshest criticism came from Bloq co-founder Jeff Garzik, who has previously worked on projects attempting to use satellites to broadcast the bitcoin network through space. Replying to Lopp’s assertion that the satellite network is a step forward for privacy, Garzik asked:
A single company broadcasting that company's version of the blockchain… is good for privacy?
— Jeff Garzik (@jgarzik) August 15, 2017
Echoing Kristov Atlas’ concern about the government shutting down the satellite transmissions–and contrasting Blockstream’s approach with his own vision for a bitcoin satellite network–he opined that a single phone call could take it offline:
To shutdown a cubesat: Ram it (KEW)
To shutdown leased b/w: One phone call exaggerating the evils of bitcoin and the dark web blah blah.
— Jeff Garzik (@jgarzik) August 15, 2017
Blockstream, however, believes the satellite network will make bitcoin “more robust than ever before.”
Featured image from Shutterstock.