Location is seen as the fundamental element of a geographical view of the world. Unlike sharing data using digital maps, the data-driven future will have machines rather than people as primary consumers of our data. This will mean that we will require explicit references to objects that are machine readable and which mandate a new way to deliver data.
At its 61st session in 2018, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS)’s UNISPACE+50 will take into account interdependencies in the space sector and foster international cooperation, while carefully considering the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. One possible area that will impact these activities is blockchain: a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) in which transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are recorded chronologically and publicly.
Innovation through DLT in Earth observations (EO) make possible flexible, low-cost and distributed ownership of satellites and the data they produce by non-profit community groups, NGOs, and individuals. This new economic model could provide much more accessible, fast and low cost remote sensing data, universal broadband communications, and remote machines: a space-based, shared infrastructure connecting physical, digital and biological spheres for the 4th industrial revolution on a truly global scale.
This shared economy could spur innovation that rapidly reduces the cost of EO from satellites. Higher sensing capability is made possible due to the use of low-cost, distributed trust provided by the blockchain distributed ledger through a series of decentralized and encryption technologies. For the EO community, however, challenges will include data ownership and addressing private ownership of satellites.
The application of DLT could remove some barriers relating to access to data by improving efficiency in data handling, and improving the ability to manage voluminous transactions, potentially leading to cost reductions in various areas. The combination of crowd-funded space-based broadband access and blockchain technologies could also allow stakeholders in areas with weak banking, universal broadband communication and/or legal infrastructures to participate in global markets.