At first glance, an out of this world plan to launch a network of crypto satellites into space sounds like one of those grandiose ideas that never went far beyond a vague outline in an ICO whitepaper in 2017.
However, when the plan comes from a team that includes a Google X engineer and the co-founder of the first private mission to reach the moon, the project suddenly seems a lot more workable.
The idea behind CryptoSat – which was actually first outlined in a paper dated November 2017 – is to build a prototype of a nanosatellite the size of a coffee cup and bring it into space, where it can function as a perfectly isolated and secure cryptographic module.
Once the concept is proven – hopefully sometime in the next year – a whole constellation of CryptoSats can be launched to orbit the earth. A blockchain infrastructure is provided that can be used for everything from mining to timestamp documents.
While it’s not the first project to combine blockchain and space – Blockstream and SpaceChain too – CryptoSat has some unique features and an impressive core team.
That sounds expensive
With increasing scaling of private space programs, it becomes surprisingly affordable to build a “CubeSat” with commercially available components and then book free capacities when launching in order to bring it into orbit. There are more than a thousand nanosatellites flying around up there.
The project was started by two Stanford graduates: SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Winetraub (34) and Yan Michalevsky (38), Chief Technology Officer of Anjuna Security. The couple chatted over a cup of coffee a few years ago about Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs) – this is the most secure part of computer infrastructure. TEEs use tamper-evident hardware to provide strong protection for things like cryptographic keys.
There is always a risk down here on earth that someone who can physically get close to the hardware will steal keys with sneaky cache timing attacks or do tricky things by observing its electromagnetic or audible signals. To counteract this, many people invest in expensive Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) to store keys and securely sign transactions and certificates. They cost anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to more than $ 100,000.
But for a comparable amount of USD, the couple realized, the whole thing could be fired into a room where the data and calculations are completely protected from controversial physical access and are almost as immutable and sacrosanct as the Bitcoin Genesis block.
Michalevsky’s company deals with this type of hardware security on earth. He believes the cost of a satellite stack is up to HSMs. “This alternative of launching simple satellites into space could potentially be even cheaper,” he said, adding, “We hope that it will provide better security as no one can reach this satellite in space, although it is not necessarily is more expensive. ” . ”
You can’t touch this
While a cryptosatellite can be destroyed, the whole world would know once it was tampered with. Communications between it and the ground can be monitored, and any fraudulent spaceship that approaches the CryptoSat in orbit is picked up by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which is monitoring the position of everything up there and revealing the information the network makes available.
Winetraub estimates the costs for a start at “less than 100,000 US dollars and falls” and explains further:
“The idea is that if you can provide a root of trust that is literally in space, you have something that has an unprecedented level of security as it is a fully tamper-proof trusted execution environment.”
The $ 100 million lunar mission makes an impression
Winetraub has worked on “some satellites outside of Israel” and said he has been fascinated by space for as long as he can remember: “I’ve loved building robots since I was a little kid. Building a robot that can be used in the Space and going to the moon is my personal ultimate challenge. How do you get all of the pieces to work together in such a hostile environment? “
In 2009 he was participating in NASA Ames’ International Space University Program trying to figure out how to use the caves on Mars to support human colonies when he first heard about Google XPRIZE.
The initiative offered a $ 20 million prize to the first privately funded team to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon. Winetraub founded SpaceIL with a couple of friends and set about raising $ 100 million to make Israel the seventh country to go to the moon. Her Beresheet robotic mission was launched on April 11, 2019, and although it made it to the moon, it wasn’t entirely successful.
“We drove a quarter of a million miles and we had a mistake in the last few kilometers that eventually resulted in the main engine shut down,” he explains. “And we hit it [the moon.] I would say that every startup wants to make a difference. We certainly did one. “
Nobody is quite sure what survived the cargo after crashing in the Serene Sea. The spaceship carried thousands of tardigrades – microscopic creatures that can survive in space without food or water – and a physical copy of Wikipedia compressed into tiny images and engraved on nickel plates. Who knows, maybe he started a whole new civilization on the moon.
Cure for cancer
CryptoSat is just one of many Winetraub projects. He’s also trying to find a cure for cancer by researching how to intercept communication with cancer cells and preparing a second moon mission “to get there and get it right”. Beresheet 2 was announced last week and will launch in 2024 with two landers and an orbiter.
The idea for CryptoSat was first presented in an article as part of the “Wild and Crazy” section of the 2017 ASHES Hardware Security Conference. It just remained an interesting concept until another Stanford graduate, Gil Shotan, 35, who was then working on Google’s self-driving car project, convinced them to make it a reality. “Nowadays I’m an engineer at Google X, where I shoot crazy moon shots,” laughed Gil, adding, “But my biggest contribution was getting to know these two.”
Cryposat is a not-for-profit company and the Silicon Valley-based team has already created detailed drafts and started soliciting price quotes. Even though you have many ideas, you still need to determine the specific use case in order to demonstrate it for the first try. “We are in discussions with several organizations to develop a specific application that we can prototype with,” said Shotan.
What do you use a CryptoSat for anyway?
CryptoSat can act as a trusted party for a wide variety of cryptographic applications, such as: B. for electronic voting, where a trusted party has to perform calculations that cannot be corrupted. The satellite can be used for crypto mining in a trusted environment or for time stamping documents for copyright reasons. The infrastructure can also interact with and validate other blockchains in the same way that some private chains sync occasional blocks with public chains like Ethereum to provide additional evidence that the ledger is trustworthy.
Shotan compares CryptoSat to the basic infrastructure of GPS, another space-based network that can accurately identify a user’s location and that supports a range of uses from maps to courier tracking to Uber Eats:
“This is about creating the GPS of the blockchain, basically an infrastructure for the future of the blockchain. We believe this can really revolutionize the way cyber applications run today. “
One use case that lies deep in the technical weed is trustworthy setup ceremonies for knowledge-free evidence. The information generated in a ceremony can undermine the security of entire cryptocurrency networks. Daniel Bar, 37, a Collider Ventures venture partner who consulted with the team, stated:
“They have things like Zcash or Tornado Cash, all the ZK Snarks apps that they rely on when they have this ceremony to set up this original case. When positioning this setup in space, you basically don’t need a trusted ceremony as this entire device is essentially your trusted execution environment. “
CryptoSat has quite a few competitors in space. Another project, also from 2017, is called SpaceChain and has launched its own cryptocurrency called SPC that has nodes in orbit. While the last major milestone on the project’s website is December 2019, the company received a $ 600,000 grant earlier this month to further expand the “decentralized satellite infrastructure”.
Blockstream, of course, pioneered the use of blockchain in space with its blockstream satellite network broadcasting the bitcoin blockchain around the world around the clock to protect against network disruptions. However, Michalevsky explained that CryptoSat is very different, not least because Blockstream rents satellites for its network.
“We’re more at the infrastructure level and something like that is more of an application,” he said, adding, “A potential problem with this is how do you trust this satellite. This satellite is shared by multiple applications and controlled by a third party.”
“We may be able to help them achieve their goal by providing a trustworthy satellite that has been specially designed and developed for cryptography and blockchain applications and offers a very high level of security in terms of structure and the fact that no one has been tampered with it.”
Size doesn’t matter
The tiny size of the CryptoSat is both a blessing and a curse. The relative simplicity of the device, while limiting processing power, also makes it easy to trust and verify that it has not been tampered with. “It’s so small and so cheap and easy to control everything you need to know about the satellite,” said Winetraub, adding that the more complicated the device, the more difficult it is to monitor:
For example, how do you check that no hardware was added before launch? All of these things get more complicated as they grow. I think small is the name of the game here. When we use modern processors and make sure we have adequate computing power and have adequate communication services, I think it’s better to set up a constellation and build a secure network out there. “
However, communication with the ground is CryptoSat’s Achilles heel. Uploading data from Earth is a slow and finite process. “The bidirectional communication is actually a challenge,” said Winetraub. “We are used to establishing a fast Ethernet connection anywhere in the world with a very large bandwidth in milliseconds. In space, this bandwidth becomes more of a limitation. “Winetraub closed:
“We’re still stuck on the internet in the 90s, so we’re looking at what applications we can do to just use the satellite as a token of trust and sign the most important cryptographic transactions, and not all of them as we just don’t have enough bandwidth . “
Could CryptoSat Replace Mining?
One day the team dreams that this satellite network could replace the blockchain mining by providing a completely trustworthy, tamper-proof validator in space. Instead of decentralizing a network using blockchain to make it trustworthy, the idea is to have a ledger in the room that is complete trustworthy, explains Michalevsky.
“This is a potential application, although a little futuristic and a little radical, but the satellite may be the only ledger that confirms the transaction history. With that in mind, you no longer need mining. “
It remains to be seen whether this particular idea will prevail or not. Winetraub believes the first step is to get the Cryptostat prototype into space. He added that the team would like to hear from anyone interested in partnering with the project or ideas for possible applications.
“We look to later year 2021 to actually get this prototype on the market and get communities to approach it, communicate with it and see if we can get some traction,” he said, adding added, “We want to engage with entrepreneurs, scientists, and the blockchain community to further explore how this can be used as an asset that is basically out of this world.”
Visit cryptosat.io for more information