Recently, ETHNews reported that NASA awarded a grant for research involving blockchain technology in late 2017. We reached out to NASA for comment and Thomas Kacpura, Advanced Communications Program manager at the agency's Glenn Research Center, responded. If the research bears fruit, he told us, it will likely have important implications on NASA's "space networks" and may eventually impact the private sector as well.
For those who missed the original article, it covered efforts by Dr. Jin Wei of the University of Akron to develop a system that aims to equip NASA spacecraft with the ability to autonomously dodge space debris, which can badly damage or incapacitate them in the event of a collision. This would free up scientists on the ground – who currently dedicate a significant number of manhours to this issue – to spend their time on more productive pursuits, and potentially enable NASA satellites to venture further from earth. The system might also apply distributed computing to the problem of processing "the massive amount of high-dimensional data" that some NASA vessels collect.
This "resilient networking and computing paradigm," as Wei calls it, would rely on the Ethereum blockchain and AI mechanisms including "deep learning techniques and fuzzy logic methods."
Here are the questions that ETHNews had for NASA, as well as Kacpura's responses:
ETHNews: Is this NASA's first-ever move to explore/facilitate the exploration of blockchain technology's potential utility in meeting some of your organization's needs/objectives? If not, what other applications have you explored, and what blockchain platform(s) have you used?
Thomas Kacpura: This is the first time NASA's Glenn Research Center has explored blockchain technology in the context of space communications and navigation. The objective here is the application of blockchain and distributed intelligence to our space and ground network communication assets.
ETHNews: Have you considered other applications for blockchain technology, such as other kinds of systems management or sharing and collectively analyzing data with peer organizations?
TK: If successful, the overall objective will be to incorporate Dr. Wei's research in our overall portfolio to ultimately optimize our communication networks.
ETHNews: Would you care to comment specifically on Dr. Wei's research?
TK: Dr. Wei's research has just been initiated. The title of her work is "A Resilient Networking and Computing Paradigm for Space Exploration." The goal is to design a secure and decentralized computing and data analysis infrastructure, which will lead to a data-driven and cognitive management architecture. This effort would support decentralized processing among NASA space network nodes in a secure fashion, resulting in a more responsive, resilient scalable network that can integrate current and future networks in a consistent manner. It is expected that the potential is high to contribute to the next generation space networks, and also allow tech transition of these algorithms for commercial systems.
As is the case with much of the research undertaken by NASA and conducted on the organization's behalf, it may take some time for the benefits to be realized. If Wei's work with blockchain and AI does eventually find its way into NASA systems, the cognitive network of autonomous spacecraft built atop it could open up a whole spectrum of possibilities for space exploration, data gathering, and any number of other innovations that may be hard to imagine today.