Blockchain and its many promises are definitely part of a modern ‘buzz’ surrounding the technology, but much of it is yet to come to fruition. Throw a stone in any direction, though, and you’ll hit some project or idea that involves the use of blockchain — it’s being considered in nearly every industry that exists today.
But for some time, it’s been overlooked by many industry giants, leaving some questions as to whether or not it will truly have an impact on our future — that is, until recently. Companies like American Express, Tencent Holdings LTD., Walt Disney, Amazon, and even Microsoft have launched projects involving the technology.
Purportedly, NASA is also exploring the use of blockchain technology, as a means to fight cyberattacks against aerospace agents.
What Does NASA Want With Blockchain?
Although NASA is synonymous with space-travel and out-of-this-world projects, they’re looking to tap blockchain for conventional aerospace. One of the company’s engineers, Ronald Reisman, believes it can be used to fight cybercrime, particularly attacks aimed at the national air-traffic control system.
A more modern real-time control system, called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is set to go live in 2020. It will afford not just more nuanced control over the entire air-traffic realm, but incredibly accurate, real-time insights that can have a significant impact on the whole of operations. Aircraft positions are determined via satellite, with information streamed in real-time to the necessary broadcast points and control centers.
The problem, however, is that the resulting data is not totally secure. Anyone with access could discern the flight patterns and positions of aircraft, which could be dangerous, to say the least.
But Reisman believes that blockchain technology is the answer, as it will help secure the necessary network and ensure only authorized parties have access to the flight patterns and location data. Reisman’s open-source blockchain system could prevent cyberattacks, especially for data spoofing and denial of service.
To understand why blockchain technology — or a broadcast network built-in on blockchain as Reisman is proposing — would be effective, you must consider the foundational elements of the platform.
It was originally developed to support and facilitate the use of cryptocurrencies, with Bitcoin being the primary focus. It is so secure because everything in the network is connected or linked, hence the ‘chain’ portion of its name.
When a transaction is completed along the blockchain, the information is stored in a data chunk called a ‘block.’ That data is connected to all the blocks that come before, as well as any blocks that come after. Anyone who wants to participate or view the chain, must download the entire thing from the beginning to its current phase. No content can be edited, modified or altered because it’s stored via a peer-to-peer-like network across several machines, as opposed to a single, centralized entity or location.
While the technology is primarily used to exchange and store cryptocurrencies, it can also be used for a great deal more, especially when digital content or data is concerned.
For example, there are companies and services planning to use blockchain technology to distribute energy. A homeowner who has a solar or renewable energy source installed may build up an excess supply beyond what they need. Having a blockchain-like market available would allow owners to sell excess energy to surrounding neighbors and communities nearby. Of course, the example — like NASA’s — is just one of many potential uses for the powerful platform.
The Hyperledger Fabric
Reisman’s proposal is based on a particular blockchain called Hyperledger Fabric, which is a bit different than many of the other projects currently in development. It was designed away from financial tech and instead focuses on enterprise use — built by Digital Asset, an IBM and New York-based industry startup.
In his paper, he talks about other chains, but he found that many of them lacked cohesion and flexibility due to design limitations, something that would be necessary to adapt the technology for use with aerospace protocols.
Reisman describes his solution as “not perfected” but does point out that his ideas are “based on available technology,” most of which work effectively as-is.
It will be interesting to see what happens from here. NASA could certainly create something viable for the aerospace industry, which, could be vital to the security of ADS-B’s 2020 rollout.
About the Author: Nathan Sykes
Nathan Sykes is the founder of Finding an Outlet, which covers the latest in technology and business news.