Money is really the easy part*


“Distance between my screen and the moon is 384,400 km, therefore, when this charts reaches the moon, each BTC will be worth 1,280 billion dollars.”
—Jeff Garzik

Sputnik, the first satellite, went into orbit in 1957. Since then, thousands of satellites have become floating extensions of our territories, with more than 50 countries participating in this spatial colonisation. From tiny CubeSats to enormous space stations, space is just another ambiguous territory for the expansion of political and economic power. But what’s the relationship between this ‘immaterial’ territory and Bitcoins? In November 2013, Jeff Garzik [a Bitcoin developer] proposed sending Bitcoins into space, to be stored securely in the event the internet should be shut down. The idea was to use a small CubeSat like a space bank, a machine in constant communication with terrestrial Bitcoin computers via radio. However, the currency, which launched in 2009, has a troubled history —from the hacking of several exchange networks [which left debts of millions of dollars] to sophisticated money laundering schemes.

The question that emerges is simple: in any case, is space actually a safer place for Bitcoin?

How to make a CubeSat

Can this be a safer place? Postcards from the Moon by Luca Galofaro

The economic and [geo]political implications of sending Bitcoins into space needs to be reconsidered. The relationship between money and speed has been analysed at length [as in Marije Meerman’s recent documentary], where the most critical infrastructure is the opaque community of computer programmes managing the speed of financial transactions. In this fictional territory, the importance of speed in the world of financial trading is radically transforming all traditional notions of value and ownership —as well as spatial radio frequencies.

By sending Bitcoins into space, it’s possible that control over asset valuation in the Bitcoin environment will ultimately come under the few big bureaucratic infrastructures controlling radio frequencies in space. In Garzik’s plan, transactions will be done using radio frequencies from the CubeSat. Even if no nation owns the radio frequency spectrum, the importance of being independent from those responsible for administering radio in space should be at the basis of the project. Knowing that satellite bandwidth is really limited, each remote location should also be equipped with a telephone modem [the bandwidth available from space depends upon the number of transponders provided by the satellite].

Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Source: Scott Ahn

Apollo 12 Flown UN Space Treaty. Source: moonpans

The possibilities of creating an interplanetary economy are also being researched by the established and biggest financial networks, such as PayPal Galactic, who aspires to ‘create a secure and functional space commerce system’ [sic]. In that sense, it is not so absurd to think that the group who sends the satellite with Bitcoins into space will join forces with a technological company able to increase the speed of that specific radio frequency, aiming to make it more competitive for trading and mining. Who will be the last in the queue? In the same way nations are fighting for control over Arctic territories, it is logical to think that having millions in Bitcoins in space will cause endless battles to reclaim the immaterial radio waves separating the CubeSat from the Bitcoin network on Earth.

Frequency selection will be one of the biggest decisions on this plan. In 1967 the UN sponsored the “Outer Space Treaty”, which established all of outer space as an international commons, forbidding states from claiming territorial sovereignty. However, under the same treaty each State that launches a space object retains jurisdiction and control over the object they put out there. It is, at least, thought provoking to think which kind of spatial legislation can be used by the Bitcoin network to make this project real. Can the open and collaborative network of cryptocurrencies survive aside of the system?

When the sky isn’t the limit anymore, then money is really the easiest part.

*This article was first published on Fulcrum. Bedford Press, Architectural Association. London
If you’re around there this week, make sure to get your risograph copy of this and other available issues.
Thanks to Jack Self for the invitation and editing and also to Shumi Bose for instigating connections.

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