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The Blockstream Satellite Network: Maintaining Bitcoin Sovereignty in Space

In August 2017, Blockstream made an unprecedented and invaluable contribution to Bitcoin by starting a free satellite service that streams the Bitcoin blockchain from space, with coverage including Africa, Europe, South America and North America. A little over a year later, the Canadian company extended the scope of its one-way Bitcoin blockchain broadcasting by including the Asia-Pacific region.Contrary to popular misconception, Blockstream did not launch its own satellites to enable transaction broadcasting in space and thereby extend Bitcoin’s censorship resistance. Rather, as confirmed by Blockstream engineer Grubles, the company leases existing satellite bandwidth from third parties for the Blockstream Satellite network.“We use leased bandwidth on commercial geosynchronous satellites to provide the Blockstream Satellite service,” he told Bitcoin Magazine. Grubles, best known for practical experimentation with mesh antennae and offline Bitcoin transactions, also clarified that the current number of satellites in this network amounts to four.The Blockstream Satellites, Censorship Resistance and PrivacyAs the native currency of the internet, bitcoin requires a stable network connection in order to synchronize a full node with the latest activity on the blockchain and broadcast new transactions. In some cases though, internet access is a luxury — and the reasons for that vary from government censorship to lack of infrastructure in rural areas. Blockstream’s satellites help solve this issue by empowering anyone who can install a mesh antenna (the type that is also used for televisions) to participate in the global Bitcoin network. “Being able to access the Bitcoin blockchain data is important if you want to use Bitcoin to its fullest extent: being able to verify blocks and transactions yourself instead of trusting others to do it for you,” explained Grubles. “Many people are unable to access the internet in general, so now they can use the free satellite service to...
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