When it comes to good news about Bitcoin, Blockstream is on an amazing streak. Just during the fall of 2018, the company has launched the Liquid Network, the Blockstream.info block explorer, the Simplicity blockchain programming language, and the Esplora source code for Liquid-compatible block explorers.
Adam Back, Pieter Wuille, Samson Mow, Allen Piscitello, and the other folks could have easily taken a break for the rest of the year in order to enjoy the winter holidays. However, just a week before Christmas, they decided to release the biggest announcement of them all: the expansion of its satellite service to cover the Asia and Pacific regions (after previously launching the geosynchronous module which covers Americas, Europe, and Africa).
The implications of this project are huge, as these full-node Bitcoin satellites can save Satoshi Nakamoto’s project from its biggest weakness of them all: internet censorship and government shutdown. Conversely, the entire “magic internet money” concept makes no sense in the context that governments are in control of communications within their borders. Internet access can be filtered, blocked, and restricted by arbitrary interventions by authoritarian, crooked, and corrupt politicians. But now, thanks to Blockstream’s efforts, anyone around the world is capable of making Bitcoin transactions without requiring access to the politically-controlled internet that we know.
Removing the main fragility of the world’s first and most important cryptocurrency means that the often touted censorship resistance is no longer at the mercy of undemocratic, extremely protectionist, and anti-capitalist nation state legislators. It also means that areas of the world with no internet access can turn into great locations for mining farms. And for Blockstream this is a great opportunity to establish itself as the most important Bitcoin-developing company, which also provides proprietary services and solutions. It’s a win-win situation that’s one of the best Christmas gift bitcoiners could get.
As Phase 2 completes worldwide coverage, #BlockstreamSatellite takes #Bitcoin to new heights. Free and private access to Bitcoin #blockchain data is now available to everyone on ?. Where will Bitcoin go next? Video made by @Pixelmatic! ⛓️?️⚡️???? pic.twitter.com/VyEjLRR48X
— Blockstream (@Blockstream) December 18, 2018
The satellites and Bitcoin’s immunity to internet censorship
You can’t have uncensorable money if your communications can be censored at any moment. That’s why Blockstream has embarked on this journey to secure funding for geosynchronous satellites which orbit the Earth at an altitude of almost 36 thousand km, constantly communicate with teleports on the ground, and allow anyone with a small antenna and a USB receiver to synchronize a full Bitcoin node even when the internet connection isn’t working. And that also implies that transactions can be made seamlessly and without worries about government censorship.
Now if anyone wants to kill Bitcoin, they need to breach international law agreements by using sophisticated orbit missiles to take down these satellites – and since Blockstream is a Canadian company whose headquarters are in Victoria, BC, any attack would turn into a declaration of war against a nation with a strong military and even stronger allies. Furthermore, the simple fact that the fully synchronized blockchain is stored in space means a lot for Bitcoin and should grant everyone the self-assurance that Nouriel Roubini is wrong and BTC is not going to zero – at least not as long as there is so much institutional interest to maintain the coin’s immutability and censorship resistance.
Additionally, internet censorship is a very big and worrying issue on a global scale. Freedom House’s 2019 “Freedom on the Net” report is subtitled “The Rise of Digital Authoritarianism” specifically because the degree of interventionism has increased on a global scale. Even some of the most democratic and free countries around the world have obstacles to access, violations of users’ rights, and limits on content (for instance, even the United States has passed two new pieces of legislation to extend data collection, surveillance, and further erode privacy: Section 702 of FISA and the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act).
Bitcoin is a really important currency in countries suffering from inflation like Venezuela – and if the authoritarian government decides to further filter the internet, the initiative would deprive millions of people of their economic freedom. Just for reference, the South American state is ranked by the Freedom House report just above Russia in terms of internet freedom. This is exactly why the Blockstream satellites are so important for the Bitcoin project.
Year after year, internet freedom keeps on diminishing on a global scale. Image Credit: Freedom House
It’s very unlikely that a Blockstream satellite will ever do a lunar landing. However, this kind of news should give investors and speculators all over the world a renewed sense of trust that Bitcoin is here to stay and this magic internet money won’t fade in redundancy as soon as a big nation-state (most likely a member of the UN Security Council) legislates against it.
The satellites are expected to enable API access in January 2019, so anyone around the world willing to utilize their services can easily connect. The business model is entirely based on collecting fees, and there is even an advanced plan to enable secure text message communications that are paid in Satoshis and use the Lightning Network infrastructure. In hindsight, it’s really impressive to see how Blockstream is building an entire ecosystem of products and services that are interconnected.
However, the launch of these satellites doesn’t mean that running your own node over the internet becomes redundant or useless. On the contrary, it’s more important than ever to extend the Earthly network, further decentralize Bitcoin, and make it even harder for governments to shut down all the devices. There are also services which allow transactions to be operated without an internet connection (such as SMS via Samourai’s Pony Direct, shortwave radio signals via the research project of Nick Szabo and Elaine Ou, or local antenna services via GoTenna), but they don’t have the magnitude and coverage of Blockstream’s ambitious project.
If a Tesla car was launched in space in early 2018, why wouldn’t Bitcoin follow the trend?
Crypto Insider has contacted Blockstream CSO Samson Mow to comment on the launch of the satellite and its utility for Bitcoin. His response was the following:
Blockstream Satellite helps the Bitcoin network become more robust and redundant. As Bitcoin is a network at its heart, making the network infrastructure stronger is key to growth for the next 5-10 years. If Bitcoin is a tank, then Blockstream Satellite is a layer of ablative armor and active camouflage.
Cover image credit: Blockstream