ConsenSys Space has unveiled TruSat – an open source, ‘citizen-powered’ space sustainability system. ConsenSys founder and Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin discussed its mission, alongside Chris Lewicki and Brian Israel, co-founders of ConsenSys Space and the former CEO and General Counsel of Planetary Resources respectively. The company acquired Planetary Resources last October.
“Defining what constitutes sustainable orbital operations in a measurable, verifiable way is vital,” said Dr. Peter Martinez, Executive Director of the Secure World Foundation. He previously chaired the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS)’s Working Group that produced the Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities.
Martinez continued: “Rules of the road are only half of the equation. Transparency about who is following the rules, and the accountability it engenders, is the other half.”
The need for ConsenSys Space and TruSat
As dependence on space technologies grows, so the number of satellites in orbit grows. There is an urgency to address the long-term sustainability of the space environment.
Amid projections of a tenfold increase in the number of satellites in low Earth orbit, avoiding collisions between satellites is becoming essential to space sustainability. Across the world, enlightened satellite operators, governments and NGOs, are working to define:
- best practices
- standards for sustainable orbital operations.
Translating these efforts into sustainable outcomes, however, requires (for orbital operations):
- enhanced transparency
The few governments that track satellites do so primarily for national security purposes. These, at best, only share a limited subset of their data with the public. Yet data controlled by a single government is not well-suited for independent assessment of space sustainability practices, where legitimacy may rest on trust shared by a multinational set of stakeholders.
In a step towards such transparency, predictability and accountability in orbit, ConsenSys Space has introduced TruSat. This is a platform-led initiative and has as its partners:
- the Secure World Foundation
- Professor Moriba Jah of the University of Texas at Austin
- the Society of Women in Space Exploration (SWISE).
TruSat is an experimental open source, open-sensor system for creating a globally-accessible, trusted record of satellite orbital positions. The design of TruSat:
- seeks to enable the assessment of satellite operations in the context of space sustainability standards
- may well seek out and develop new solutions to broader space traffic management challenges.
A decentralised architecture for trust
TruSat embraces a decentralised, autonomous architecture engineered for trust. It achieves this by placing its data beyond the control of any institution. In place of an institutional arbiter between sensor data and orbit predictions, TruSat substitutes transparent, verifiable algorithms. These which automate the process of determining and refining orbits.
Unlike existing sources of orbital location data, the entirety of the algorithms that translate individual observations of a satellite into an orbit prediction;
- are transparent
- allow independent assessment of any orbit prediction.
TruSat’s autonomous, decentralised trust architecture is not its only experimental element. The decision to build citizen satellite observers into the system is part of a larger set of experiments. These will explore the potential of Ethereum technology to enable bottom-up, collective action.
“We must eliminate the possibility of any single source of information to bias or uniquely determine our conclusions and opinions about what and how objects behave in space,” said Professor Jah.
“And governments don’t share the underlying sensor data or algorithms that would enable consumers of the data to draw their own conclusions. Evidence, at its strongest, must allow for independently corroborated conclusions. The deterrent effect of both space laws and standards will be greatly enhanced by a global public eyewitness capability. Our goal? Nihil arcanum est (nothing hides).”
Crowdsourcing and free access
From inception, TruSat will crowdsource and verify data about the orbital positions of satellites. The idea is to enable free access to globally-trusted information. In turn this will be usable for measuring orbital conduct against emerging sustainability standards.
Among the priorities along the anticipated TruSat roadmap are features to:
- ease the process of making and reporting satellite observations
- empowering a diverse range of people to participate
- facilitating the system to scale.
The roadmap contemplates a progressive decentralisation of the system and its governance, enabled by a migration to the Ethereum mainnet. Its open-sensor architecture will accept visual satellite observation data from any individual or organisation, including (for example) from:
- from citizen satellite observers with binoculars or a smartphone app
- to university observatories.
It will autonomously assemble observations of a satellite from multiple points around Earth. These observations will produce and evidence an orbital prediction.
TruSat Version 0.1 is now available for testing
Version 0.1 of the TruSat software is a feature-limited engineering prototype for validation of the core software engine for autonomously fitting an orbit from observations of a satellite from multiple points on Earth. This first release is primarily for testing by the dedicated community of hobbyists already active in tracking satellites.
“Designing a system that is at once open, autonomous, and resistant to malicious and erroneous inputs presents considerable engineering challenges,” according to ConsenSys Space Co-Founder Chris Lewicki, an aerospace systems engineer who led the system’s design.
“A big part of what makes this possible—what allows users to have confidence that neither the algorithms nor the output have been tampered with—is the Ethereum blockchain technology integrated throughout our roadmap.
“We have barely scratched the surface of what Web3 technology will enable in this system. Right now, the system depends on the intrinsic motivations of satellite observers to participate. As we progress along our Web3 technology roadmap, we will be able to introduce extrinsic incentives to contribute to the system.”
Enterprise Times: what does this mean
The software powering TruSat is available under an open source license. TruSat developed the prototype in-house. Progressing from a prototype to TruSat’s full potential, however, will depend on the creative contributions of an active open source community. To succeed, TruSat must attract developer and space enthusiasts to build out its vision. To that end ConsenSys Space says it will host hackathons as well as post bug bounties in the months ahead.
Placing TruSat in the context of the broader mission and vision of ConsenSys Space, Lubin said: “ConsenSys believes that enabling large-scale, global collective action is among the most transformative potential applications of Ethereum blockchain technology, and is investing in solving space-related collective action challenges as R&D to accelerate the realization of this potential. What could we achieve if we could harness the ideas and talents of every person wishing to contribute to space endeavors? We intend to find out. That’s why ConsenSys Space exists.”
TruSat is not the only entrant into the blockchain/space arena. There are also SpaceChain and Blockstream Satellite (to mention two others) – though these are pursuing different paths compared to TruSat.