The Guiding Vision of Earth’s Space Program
The exploration and development of outer space interests a great many people across our planet and yet is accessible to few. Even as more countries than ever before field space missions, opportunities to participate in space endeavors are concentrated in a small handful of institutions, in a smaller handful of countries, and limited to relatively narrow range of professional disciplines. As a consequence, human space endeavors benefit from only a fraction of the ideas, talents, and financial capital seeking to contribute.
Much of the dazzling progress in space technology since the turn of the century can be attributed to billionaires so impatient with the pace of government space programs that they invested their fortunes and talents in starting their own space programs. Impatience with the pace of progress, good ideas, and a desire to contribute are not limited to billionaires, however; they are but the tip of a much larger iceberg. And yet the capital intensity of space endeavors keeps most would-be contributors beneath the water; doing almost anything in space requires a level of capital only a billionaire or national government could marshal. What most individuals could contribute would, by itself, be such a drop in the bucket to discourage trying.
TruSat's founding team was guided by a vision for Earth’s Space Program: a global, citizen-led space program accountable to and controlled by its community of contributors. It is a vision for bottom-up collective action on an unprecedented scale, in which individual contributions, modest in isolation, are assembled into space activities on a scale only a handful of governments and billionaires have managed to date.
The Ethereum blockchain presents a new technological foundation on which to build such Earth-scale collective action. Traditionally, individuals contributing time or money to a large endeavor do so on their trust in their fellow collaborators, or a central institution (a non-profit, company, or government). This significantly limits the scale of collaborative projects. At the largest possible scale—accommodating contributions from every country on Earth—it is impossible to know (and thus trust) a significant portion of one’s fellow contributors, and near-impossible for such a large, geographically distributed group of stakeholders to agree on a central entity trusted by all. At a fundamental level, Ethereum technology dispenses with the need for a trusted entity, or even to know one’s collaborators. In place of trusted individuals and institutions are transparent rules that are guaranteed to execute.
As explained below, TruSat is a first step—a set of experiments in Earth-scale collective action—on the path to Earth’s Space Program.
Diversifying, Democratizing, and Decentralizing Space Endeavors
Embodied in the vision of Earth’s Space Program are imperatives to diversify, democratize, and decentralize space endeavors.
To diversify space endeavors is to harness more of humankind’s potential. To bring more and different kinds of people off the sidelines and into the league of space contributors. Diversifying the pool of contributors increases the volume of resources available, as well as the breadth of ideas as perspectives and experiences, including those that have largely been absent to date.
To democratize space endeavors is to make them accessible to anyone with a desire to contribute. This requires the creation of opportunities to participate, such as contributing funds, expertise, in-kind resources, participating in decisions, creating content, or collecting data. It also requires the removal of barriers to participation, beginning with overcoming perceptions that space is only for engineers and scientists with elite credentials. Making participation in space endeavors accessible to a wide swath of Earth’s population will require linguistic and technical translation, as well as user interfaces and technological aides that reduce knowledge barriers to making valuable contributions.
To decentralize space endeavors is to apply space mission engineering practices to the institutions that carry them out. No company, government, or other institution is a single point of failure. To engineer a space program for multi-generational progress, it must be decentralized for resilience; to insulate long-term strategic planning on an Earth scale from shifting political and economic winds in individual countries.
TruSat as an Experiment in Diversifying, Democratizing, and Decentralizing Space Endeavors
TruSat is an experiment in bottom-up, Earth-scale collaboration to produce a result that heretofore required exquisite, expensive sensor networks. For individuals impatient with the halting pace of intergovernmental cooperation on space sustainability, it will provide opportunities to take direct, concrete action; to be a part of the solution. With its Proof of Satellite software engine and open, transparent architecture, TruSat can assemble individual satellite observations, which would not be of much use in isolation, into a trusted source of truth on orbital location; an unprecedented space sustainability tool.
Geographical diversity—observations of a satellite from multiple points around Earth—enhances the accuracy of orbital predictions. Relying on visual observations of satellites, TruSat advantages participants in rural or less-developed locale, with less light pollution than cities. This inverts the traditional structure of opportunities to participate in space endeavors, which tend to be clustered around large cities.
As an experiment in democratizing space endeavors, TruSat will reduce the knowledge and skill barriers to making and observing visual satellite observations. At present, making a visual observation of a satellite requires the observer to:
- Utilize a web resource such as a Heavens Above, CalSky, or a smartphone app such as SkyView, to determine where and when to look;
- Orient binoculars or DSLR at the appropriate star pattern, and record the time the satellite crosses an imaginary line drawn between two stars;
- Utilize imaging-based software such as sattools/stvid to calculate an Initial Orbit Determination (“IOD”) based on the observer’s location (GPS coordinates) and the timing of the image-detected satellite observation.
The initial releases of TruSat, intended primarily to test and refine the Proof of Satellite software engine, will largely rely upon the above workflow, supplemented by tutorial resources. For some, the sporting element of “hunting” satellites in the night sky contributes to the appeal of the activity, scaling to a global, diverse pool of contributors will likely require a relatively simplified, seamless process for making satellite observations. As described above in the TruSat Product Roadmap, features that ease the process of making and observing satellites will be priorities for subsequent releases.
TruSat’s roadmap contemplates decentralization on multiple levels in service of trust and resilience. At the software level, the community aims to implement TruSat on Ethereum mainnet, with decentralized, on-chain governance. Once completed, priorities for observation, as one example, will be determined by the TruSat community of contributors.
TruSat’s decentralized architecture will help it to surmount the trust challenges of existing SSA networks. Trust in the SSA data generated by TruSat is not dependent on trust in any institution (whether ConsenSys Space or any of its partners). Every aspect of TruSat’s software and underlying algorithms will be open and transparent, and its SSA data this subject to verification. Trust but verify.
At an institutional level, TruSat is intended to progressively decouple its longevity and progress from the support of any single institution. This is accomplished by spreading support for TruSat across multiple TruSat Partners, and developing TruSat as on open source project in which ConsenSys Space is one contributor among many.