Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) /Blockchain continues to be a relevant technology given its features of decentralisation, trust, security, immutability, transparency, traceability, automation and speed. For instance, blockchain can be used for launching and operating satellites (including, e.g., by turning satellites into “smart emancipated devices” through smart contracts), in the processing of EO data, in the distribution/ exchange of blockchain information via satellite, as well as in exercising governmental functions — such as resorting to blockchain in the licensing process of launching a satellite and in monitoring space operations. Space assets and data can also be tokenized, facilitating their registry and exchange. Moreover, given the increasing privatization and commercialization of the space sector, the transparency and immutability features of blockchain become pivotal in establishing trust and accountability among various stakeholders in their agreements, transactions and financial flows.

In the European Union (EU), the Communication Shaping Europe’s Digital Future already referred to the building and deployment of cutting-edge joint digital capacities in the area of blockchain, whilst the 2030 Digital Compass highlighted the development of the European Blockchain Services infrastructure (EBSI). In its Path to the Digital Decade, the deployment of the EBSI is once again mentioned.

EBSI is a joint initiative of the European Commission (EC) and the European Blockchain Partnership (EBP), following the creation of the latter in April 2018.  The objective of EBSI was already set out in the EBP Declaration: supporting the delivery of cross-border digital public services and interoperability, ensuring security, confidentiality, and personal data protection compliance and, ultimately, creating a level playing field capable of fostering competition with entities of different size and maturity. EBSI aims to support cross-border applications across multiple domains, with a set of use cases having been selected, such as on SME financing, document traceability and trusted data sharing.

In addition, the European blockchain regulatory sandbox was also launched, in February 2023, aimed to facilitate the dialogue between regulators and innovators for private and public sector use cases. In turn, the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum continues to develop initiatives and publish reports on topics of interest.

From a legal and regulatory point of view, and in addition to the recent EU Regulation on markets in crypto-assets (MiCA Regulation), which may be relevant such as with respect to tokenisation of space assets and data, the proposed amendment to the eIDAS Regulation will introduce electronic ledgers to the scope of the Regulation (where electronic ledgers are defined as a tamper proof electronic record of data, providing authenticity and integrity of the data it contains, accuracy of their date and time, and of their chronological ordering). Indeed, the provision of a service consisting in the recording of electronic data into an electronic ledger will be expressly covered by the eIDAS Regulation. In accordance with the proposed amendment, “An electronic ledger shall not be denied legal effect and admissibility as evidence in legal proceedings solely on the grounds that it is in an electronic form or that it does not meet the requirements for qualified electronic ledgers”. Moreover, a qualified electronic ledger (which is the one that meets the requirements provided in the proposed amendment) “shall enjoy the presumption of the uniqueness and authenticity of the data it contains, of the accuracy of their date and time, and of their sequential chronological ordering within the ledger”. Thus, the use of such electronic ledgers can play a relevant role in the space sector, such as for ensuring the authenticity and integrity of satellite data.

In addition to the legal rules more specifically dedicated to DLT/blockchain, its use will call upon other provisions, such as on contracts, data protection, platforms and their liability, among others.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is also investigating the role of DLT / blockchain in the space sector, having supported several companies in projects in this field, such as for enhancing data integrity and for traceability of EO data.

In turn, in October 2023, the European Union Agency for the Space Program (EUSPA) announced Cassini Challenges, a competition that tasks innovators with developing cutting-edge solutions to solve today’s societal issues using satellite data/services from Galileo and Copernicus. One of the three thematic challenges is the Emerging Technologies Challenge: innovators must develop disruptive solutions combining EU space data with deep technologies such as Blockchain technology.

In countries such as the US, approaches for a blockchain strategy have also been put forward, with a technology assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) having analysed the benefits and challenges of blockchain. And, in the space sector, projects have been developed resorting to blockchain. For instance, NASA cooperated with Lonestar and the Isle of Man to leverage blockchain technology for an upcoming lunar mission, aimed to test the feasibility of storing backups on the Moon, and where blockchain will be used to ensure verification and security. NASA also funded a project to examine blockchain technology to improve protection for inter-satellite communication.

Africa also acknowledges the role of blockchain in today’s economy and society: the African Union Development Agency document on Powering the African Vision – Blockchain Technology for Africa’s Transformative Governance, examines the potential for blockchain technology to transform governance in Africa, particularly in the areas of transparency, efficiency, and trust. And the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030) already recognises the role of Blockchain as a driving force in today’s societies, noting that blockchain use should be encouraged for harnessing digital transformation and for e-transactions.

Despite the immense opportunities and benefits brought by DLT / blockchain to the space sector, the use of this technology brings, as mentioned, legal and regulatory obligations that need to be carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis. Such assessment will ensure that the development, commercialisation and use of space products and services using DLT / blockchain are compliant and that risks are mitigated.