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In the not-so-distant future, it is likely that humans will have permanent outposts on the Moon, Mars, and eventually other planets and moons in our solar system. Bitcoin will be the obvious choice of currency for the space age, since it will be the only form of money that can truly be transferred from planet to planet without hassle. This article will speculate on how Bitcoin would work in space.
Assuming internet connectivity in space, both fiat payment networks and Bitcoin would work. Fiat would only be able to compete in digital form, otherwise it makes far more sense to use Bitcoin since it doesn’t have a physical form and it won’t cost much to send. Compare this to something physical like cash, which costs USD 5,000 to USD 10,000 per pound for it to launch into Earth orbit, and probably even more to leave Earth orbit. A USD 20 bill weighs 1 gram, and would cost USD 11 to USD 22 to launch into Earth orbit.
Likewise, precious metals would be too heavy to launch into space, launch costs even for gold would cost 50% of the value of gold. It is possible that precious metals mining will occur on other planets though, and they will likely be part of the monetary system on some planets during the space age. They can’t be sent planet to planet efficiently though, so Bitcoin would be the optimal candidate for running the interplanetary financial system.
A really important aspect of Bitcoin is that it is a completely digital currency, decentralized, and cryptographically secure, so if someone receives Bitcoins in space they truly have control of the Bitcoins. This is far preferable to sending fiat digital payments, where the fiat balance represents cash stored in a far away inaccessible bank. It would probably often cost more to go to the bank than the average person’s life savings.
In the future when nations begin to form in space and there are disputes between them, depending on money stored in a bank on another planet could lead to a complete loss of access if war erupts. In general, people in space would be helpless to stop any actions by banks and governments to seize money.
Another way to look at this is Bitcoin’s decentralization that provides complete freedom for each individual and country in space to control money as they wish, versus depending on a centralized fiat system which can take away their monetary freedom at any moment. Running out of money in space could mean certain death, so using Bitcoin, which guarantees money is secure for each individual that has Bitcoins, is a way to guarantee survival.
There is a major barrier for Bitcoin working in space, however, as of now there is no interplanetary internet. There were plans to launch a Mars Telecommunications Orbiter to create an internet link between Earth and Mars, but that was scrapped. However, once there are actually people on Mars it can probably be assumed that such technology will be deployed. Interplanetary internet will have to have fast enough download speeds so people on other planets can stay synced with the Bitcoin blockchain. Bitcoin would have to become more efficient and use the least data possible for interplanetary Bitcoin transactions to be feasible; increasing block size or block frequency for scalability purposes on Earth ignores the bigger picture of scaling to space. Instead, Bitcoin will need to focus on smaller blocks and lower block frequency, and transactions which use less data.
Another major barrier is the laws of physics. The speed of light is 300 million m/s, and data cannot be transferred faster than that under those circumstances. This means data transferred to other planets, such as Bitcoin transactions, will have a physical delay due to the speed of light. The circumference of the Earth is 40 million meters, so it takes no longer than 0.13 seconds for a Bitcoin transaction sent on one side of the globe to reach the other side of the globe.
From Earth, it would take a Bitcoin transaction 4.3 minutes to reach Mars. It gets much longer to send a Bitcoin transaction to Jupiter or its many moons – nearly 35 minutes. The moons of Jupiter will likely be a hotbed for human civilization in the space age, and Bitcoin transactions will be possible from Earth to the moons of Jupiter, if quite slow. It would also require extremely strong interplanetary internet and this might not even be feasible. The moons of Saturn could be another concentration of human civilization, especially Titan, which is rich in hydrocarbon fuels and has an atmosphere, but it would take 71 minutes for a Bitcoin transaction to go from Earth to Saturn, if that’s even possible.
NASA has certainly sent out probes to Saturn and even beyond Pluto in the case of New Horizons and the Voyagers, and they can communicate with them using extremely powerful radio antennas. Maybe a protocol for sending Bitcoin with these radio antennas can be developed, but would it even make sense? Someone that far away in the solar system would need an equally powerful antenna any time they did a Bitcoin transaction and this would be too arduous and be extremely slow, and probably costly energy wise.
Perhaps for the Moon and Mars, satellites in Earth orbit, and maybe Venus, Earth’s version of Bitcoin could be successfully used with sufficient interplanetary internet. However, for other planets like Jupiter, Saturn and beyond, one solution would be to fork Bitcoin and make Jupiter Bitcoin, Saturn Bitcoin, Neptune Bitcoin, so on and so forth. The internet would work fine around each planet once colonization occurs and work just as fast as Earth’s, but connecting Bitcoin networks between planets more than 1 Astronomical Unit away from each other, the distance between the Sun and Earth, probably doesn’t make sense.
As far as Bitcoin mining is concerned, it would not be possible for Bitcoin mining to work on any planet besides Earth, or any other planet or moon which manages to obtain the large majority of hashing power. If a Bitcoin miner on Mars finds a block, due to the delay between the Mars and Earth, it is likely that most of the time someone on Earth will find the same block during that lag time, and the block on Mars would be orphaned. At further distances, mining Bitcoin on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn could easily lead to dangerous forks that could last more than an hour and might cause losses of money.
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