PayPal has kicked off a space payments programme – yes, you heard that correctly – and I actually think they're being serious with the pitch.
Its plan is to start preparing the services and tools needed to deal with payments that may happen in the future due to space travel. Their reasoning for doing so is that with space travel so potentially close to being a reality – i.e. Musk's SpaceX capsules to a space hotel, how can consumers pay for the goods they want?
In reality, the problem could be solved with a fully virtual currency like Bitcoin. Despite the problems the fledgling currency has, a refined version could work very well in a digitally connected world. Travelling into space would just require you to exchange currencies like you do going anywhere in the world.
PayPal seem to be complicating that problem, instead of relying on the already well-established ways of electronic payments. There isn't a great need for something totally new on the space front for payments except for the legalities of it all – something PayPal has no control over.
The distance between space – or at least where a space station would be positioned – and Earth is actually less than that of the distance across the Atlantic Ocean, and electronic payments work perfectly fine over such radio and satellite communication networks. What's to stop the same happening when relayed from a space station to a satellite and down to Earth?
The same method could be used from a spacecraft down to Earth too, there isn't really a need for much more than that.
Perhaps a new method is needed when we all go inter-planetary, but that's decades in the future and PayPal's investment could be used on far more effective things.
For now, this venture seems to be little more than a PR boost and a pie-in-the-sky idea. We'll see what the governments of the future decide before we start heralding payment methods of the future. Until then, enjoy PayPal's vision below.