On Taking Bitcoin Mining to the Moon… Literally

As humankind becomes an inter-planetary species which embraces the Bitcoin standard, we should seriously consider extending the mining operations beyond Earth. The reasons behind the expansion take into consideration both single point of failure scenarios (Bitcoin would be destroyed if our home planet remained the only place where the currency gets secured, while some catastrophic Death Star-like event happened) and the distribution of mining to relay transactions a lot easier across our galaxy.

Furthermore, moving mining operations to celestial bodies that we don’t inhabit (such as Earth’s natural satellite) would bring environmental benefits while lowering the delay between transmissions to other around the Solar System. If we factor in the 2-week lunar days and the amount of energy we can capture and use for mining, we get a pretty sustainable extension for the already-existing Earth operations.

The Moon is not the end goal, but only the first step towards making Bitcoin the inter-planetary network which helps us make payments. After we successfully establish mining operations on the Moon, we can undergo easier expansions to Mars and other planets.

There is already an ongoing project in which NASA and Nokia are putting 4G technology on Earth’s natural satellite, so following it up with Bitcoin mining would be really useful expansion. In time, if we manage to make mining equipment to withstand extreme temperatures, we can also get closer to the Sun by setting up operations on Venus and Mercury (which would be ideal, given the amount of solar energy that we can capture and use).

This article is inspired by Blockstream’s project to deliver Bitcoin blockchain synchronization via commercial satellites, as well as Peter Todd‘s 2017 hard sci-fi on Bitcoin mining in space. And while some political and physical challenges may exist, the idea is not as far-fetched as it first sounds.

Bitcoin Mining on The Moon: The Delay Times

When it comes to Bitcoin mining, one of the biggest concerns is always the lag (or delay time) which reduces the miners’ competitive advantage in discovering blocks. A faster and more stable internet connection is always preferable – yet thanks to the satellite synchronization and the development of high-speed mobile networks across areas which have no broadband infrastructure, the situation is gradually changing.

Now let’s do the math. The average distance between the Earth and the Moon is 385.000 kilometres (240.000 miles). Conversely, the speed of light, which radio waves reach when they propagate in vacuum, is exactly 299.792.458 m/s. This means that sending a message with the speed of light to the Moon and back will take an average of 1.28 seconds.

But we should also take into consideration the shape of the Moon, the smoothness of the surface, and the antenna polarization of these transmissions. According to existing research, there is a delay of this mathematically ideal time which bumps the average EME (Earth-Moon-Earth) radio signal propagation time to an average of 2.56 seconds.

Given Bitcoin’s block-issuing time of approximately 10 minutes, this kind of delay time is more than acceptable. Therefore, we already possess the technology to make this space expansion of Bitcoin mining work.

Bitcoin Mining on The Moon: The Solar Energy and Temperature

Beyond the single point of failure and environmental criteria, we should also consider the amount of solar energy that we can use for Lunar Bitcoin mining. And as you might remember from school, the Moon rotates around its axis throughout 27 Earth days – which means that it has a 13 1/2 daytime, and a 13 1/2 night time. This almost fits the 2 weeks Bitcoin meme.

In theory, this sounds ideal for capturing and using solar power. There is an extended amount of time during which the energy can be stored, so if we developed efficient batteries we could sustain the activity throughout the entire night cycle.

According to 2019 NASA research, building solar panels in space might be as easy as clicking “Print”. In theory, the Moon surface should get a similar amount of sunlight as Earth during daytime. So we can assume that the solar constant (aka solar irradiance) of 1.36 kW per square meter also applies to the Moon.

But due to the lack of an atmosphere and the absence of clouds to stand in the way of sunlight, the solar energy production should be slightly higher on the Moon surface. It all sounds feasible, but the main challenge is still storing the energy for almost two weeks with negligible waste.

At this point in our research, we should factor in the Lunar temperature swings. Given the Moon’s lack of an atmosphere, the heat doesn’t get preserved and we go from extremely hot to extremely cold. The extremes are 127 degrees Celsius (260 Fahrenheit, 400.15 Kelvin) for daytime and minus 173 degrees Celsius (343.4 Fahrenheit, 446.15 Kelvin) during nights.

For reference, a Bitmain Antminer mining ASIC operates within a range of 65 to 135 degrees Celsius (149 to 275 Fahrenheit, 338.15 to 408.15 Fahrenheit). With proper ventilation and heating, the device is very likely to withstand the extreme temperatures of the Moon’s daytime.

However, the issue comes at night. Not only that it’s hard to store the electricity for two weeks, but we must also ensure a proper temperature to make the Bitcoin mining devices function. Ideally, the heat generated from mining should get preserved throughout the 13-day sunlight cycle so it can be used to sustain the operation during the night.

So in order to make Bitcoin mining on the Moon work, we need to find better materials to store both electricity and heat. If we solve these two problems, there is no other obstacle – and further research can be put into expanding towards Mars and Mercury.

Bitcoin Mining on the Moon: The Governments and Space Exploration Monopolies

Even if we fix all of the technological and physical issues which concern Bitcoin mining on the Moon, we must still fix space travel, exploration, and research – fields which are currently in an unfair situation of government monopoly.

Sure, we do have private companies which seek to offer space travel and colonization services. But in order for them to operate, they still needed to get permission from governmental authorities and they worked with governmental agencies for their early testing.

Hopefully, the situation will change in time and space travelling will be as simple as getting a bus ticket, while interplanetary law will allow for some innovation without restricting exploration and scientific development on the grounds of private property enforcement. In other words, we should make sure that our future legislators don’t treat uninhabited places as if they entirely belong to them or to monopolistic private entities.

But if the price of expanding Bitcoin mining in space is that of entrusting a handful of governments with control over the mining operations, then the effort is probably not worth it.

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Vlad Costea

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