Bitcoin (BTC) in Space: How Cryptocurrency Solves Interplanetary Payments

December 18, 2018 / by Zachary Mashiach

Space exploration and colonization is an inevitable reality in the future. NASA and private corporations like SpaceX and Blue Origin already have the technology to launch missions to other planets, but they are taking their time to raise funds and ensure 100 percent success.

SpaceX says it will land people on Mars by 2024.

The richest man in the world and Founder of Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, says he will create a large moon colony with or without NASA’s help.

Bitcoin with its instant, decentralized, and secure transactions that travel at the speed of light is obviously the perfect currency for space, but there are some downsides.

Here, we’ll explore the benefits of using Bitcoin in space as well as the caveats.

The cost of “launching” Bitcoin into space is simply the transaction fee, usually less than $1, plus however much it costs for the high powered antennas to communicate with the internet across long distances in space.

Compare this to fiat cash money, which would be impractical to launch into space due to the costs of rocket fuel. Launching a $20 bill into space costs $22. Perhaps launching $100 bills into space will work, but the fee would still be hard to stomach, and residents of the moon or other planets will not have any small bills or coins.

Perhaps a fiat system could be set up with all the $100 bills stored in a central repository and then people use digital ledgers to keep track, but why go through all that trouble if Bitcoin already solves this problem.

Decentralized currency will be important in space. For example, if Jeff Bezos decides to leave the Earth and become the emperor of the moon, there could be backlash from Earth governments.

This may sound outlandish, but it is inevitable that once colonization of other planets begins new countries will eventually form that have no territory on Earth. In the moon colony example, if they have USD bank accounts, they could find that all their cash becomes instantly frozen at the first sign of political trouble.

It will be just about impossible for a country on the moon or another planet to get their money back in the event of an account seizure. Just like Donald Trump says make America great again, whoever is President in the future could say make Earth great again, and seize all of the bank accounts of interplanetary nations in order to subsidize Earth’s economy. Space nations will need Bitcoin in order to conduct interplanetary commerce without the threat of account seizures.

The problem with centralized currency becomes even more severe for the space cowboys, people who go off into space and decide to do whatever they want to do. If they break a law in any jurisdiction, which could be as simple as taking their ship off-planet without permission, they would have their bank accounts frozen.

The only option for rogue space adventurers is to carry currency with them onboard, since if their bank is frozen, and they are depending on the bank, they will either die in space or have to go back to their planet and get arrested.

Due to the scarcity of cash in space, the only good option for space cowboys would be gold or Bitcoin. Gold is heavy, and would cost tremendous fees in the form of rocket fuel everytime they liftoff from a planet. Also, holding a large amount of gold on a spaceship would make them easy targets for space pirates. Bitcoin would never cost anything during liftoff, since it is on the internet, and it cannot be stolen unless the private key is given over.  

Further, imagine if someone gets a job from an employer on another planet, which will be quite common in the interplanetary economy. Workers would likely never even meet their bosses, and the workers perhaps would not want the native currency on their employer’s planet, since they would never be able to physically own it.

Bitcoin can be personally owned no matter where people are in space, since Bitcoin is cryptographically secure, and possession of the private key provides full ownership, in the same way, holding cash in your wallet is full ownership.

As is already being witnessed on Earth, Bitcoin is a universal currency. Instead of making a complicated FOREX system in space wrought with account seizures and third parties, it makes much more sense to just use Bitcoin. A space economy fueled by Bitcoin would be far more liquid and efficient than a fiat currency economy.

There are caveats to using Bitcoin in space due to the speed of light. Bitcoin transactions would only be able to travel across space at the speed of light. This means it takes 1.28 seconds for Bitcoin to reach the moon from the Earth, three minutes to reach Mars, 33 minutes to reach Jupiter, and 67 minutes to reach Saturn. Double these times and add 10 minutes for the average Bitcoin transaction confirmation time on other planets.

We mention Jupiter and Saturn because they have numerous moons that are ripe for colonization and could be a hotspot for human civilization in the future.

The transaction times to other planets, even for Saturn which is over an hour, is not a major issue. Even if transactions take a long time to propagate to Earth and confirm, they would still be confirmed. Perhaps people on other planets should put the maximum sensible transaction fees to ensure that transactions confirm as quickly as possible once received.

Clearly, Bitcoin will no longer be instantaneous in space, since transactions would not even show up on the block explorer until the transaction propagates to Earth and back, but it will work.

Mining Bitcoin on other planets is a major dilemma. On the moon, mining Bitcoin will still be quite doable, since the few seconds delay is not going to prevent miners from striking blocks on the moon, it will just put them at a slight disadvantage.

Mining on Mars is where problems will begin. If a miner on Mars strikes a block, and someone on Earth finds the block in the 3 minutes it takes the Martian block to reach Earth, the Martian miner will not get paid. Some truly stubborn miners may mine Bitcoin on Mars, but they will be at an extreme disadvantage, and they will not profit nearly as much as Earth miners.

On the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, mining Bitcoin becomes intractable. In the 33 minutes and 67 minutes respectively it takes Bitcoin transactions to reach Earth, the Jupiter and Saturn miners will be disenfranchised 100 percent of the time. This actually makes Bitcoin centralized, at least on a planetary scale since whichever planet has the most hash rate will get all the block rewards.

This is just an Earth-centric view, however. Since Bitcoin is decentralized, another planet could generate 50 percent or more of the hash rate and disenfranchise all of the miners on Earth. To prevent this sort of thing from happening, perhaps it would be best to have Bitcoin Jupiter, Bitcoin Saturn, Bitcoin Earth, and so forth.

Versions of Bitcoin for different planets is especially important, considering that a planet that achieves a significant hash rate, but not a majority hash rate, would be dealing with constant forks.

For example, miners on the moons of Saturn may verify transactions and put them into blocks, only to have their chain orphaned whenever a transmission is received from Earth. If every planet is using the same version of Bitcoin, it would be much less confusing and more secure to only have miners on one of the planets.

Since it will be many years before colonization of other moons and planets becomes a reality, perhaps the Bitcoin developers will have time to optimize Bitcoin for use in space, to remove these caveats and ensure Bitcoin functions perfectly in space.