TruSat illustration
TruSat will enable hobbyists and others to submit satellite observations to support a crowdsourced space situational awareness system in support of space sustainability research. Credit: ConsenSys Space

WASHINGTON — A venture linked to a former space mining company announced Oct. 21 a very different project, using blockchain technology to provide crowdsourced space situational awareness (SSA) data.

ConsenSys Space, established by blockchain company ConsenSys after it acquired Planetary Resources nearly a year ago, rolled out a project called TruSat during an event here tied to the 70th International Astronautical Congress.

TruSat will offer software to allow individuals, such as satellite tracking hobbyists, to report satellite positions. The project will make orbital information on those objects, derived from that tracking data, freely available to users, in particular researchers studying space sustainability.

“TruSat is an effort — an experiment, truthfully — in producing SSA data that can be widely, if not globally, trusted and made freely accessible for any application,” said Brian Israel, co-founder of ConsenSys Space and the former general counsel of Planetary Resources, in an interview.

The project is intended to address concerns that SSA data that’s available today, notably by the U.S. Air Force, is tightly controlled. “When the data is controlled from sensor to output by a single institution, like the Defense Department, trust in the results is linked to trust in that institution, and it’s hard to find an institution trusted by all people all the time,” he said.

Moreover, SSA data is treated as a “black box,” with no access to the underlying data or algorithms by which the positions are derived. “We architected the TruSat system to be better in both respects,” he said.

Users will be able to submit their satellite observations through the TruSat software with full transparency regarding the observations and the processes by which satellite orbits are derived from them. Over time, Israel said, TruSat will offer a “confidence assessment” of observations, based on the observer and their past track record of accuracy, to refine the orbital elements calculated for each object.

TruSat will initially work with the worldwide community of hobbyists who already track objects, including classified satellites not included in Air Force catalogs, and share that information in online forums. Those people have an “intrinsic motivation” to help out with a project like this, Israel said, based on interviews the company did with a number of them, and are willing to help refine the system before expanding it to a wider audience.

Later, TruSat plans to offer other incentives for people to participate in satellite tracking work. That could include “missions” to observe specific objects, with participants eligible for mission patches. Israel said the system could offer additional “gamification” elements in the future to encourage participation.

The use of blockchain is essential to the TruSat system, the company argues, to ensure data submitted is not tampered with, particularly for an open system like this. “The most concrete use case for blockchain technology is when the parties involved can’t agree on an institution they all trust,” Israel said.

Several organizations plan to cooperate with ConsenSys Space on TruSat, including the Secure World Foundation and the University of Texas. However, the company doesn’t see TruSat as a competitor to the Air Force’s own catalog or other efforts, like the Commerce Department’s plans for an open-architecture data repository of SSA data.

“Those services have different applications,” Israel said, with an emphasis on space traffic management. Instead, TruSat will serve researchers studying space sustainability. “The gap that we see is a source of SSA data that is both widely trusted and doesn’t have any strings attached.”

Israel said ConsenSys Space plans to use TruSat, and its blockchain technology, for other space applications. “Our mission and vision is to build collaboration platforms to democratize, diversify and decentralize space endeavors,” he said. “TruSat is our first step in that process, but it’s not the only one we plan.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...