Data availability is a critical part of any blockchain scaling strategy. It refers to the ability for transaction data to be made available for nodes to download. However, there’s a problem: A block producer could withhold data included in a block. Therefore, they could also hide a malicious transaction inside the block.
How can nodes, then, be sure that the block producer did not act maliciously? This dilemma is called the “Data Availability Problem (DAP).”
The traditional monolithic blockchains are designed for everyone to run full nodes. However, this approach has been demonstrated to not be scalable. In such a setting, running light nodes comes with risks due to the DAP. Subsequent developments to scalability, like sidechains and rollups, also face this problem. So far, all off-chain or on-chain solutions to this problem come with trade-offs.
The team of researchers and engineers at Celestia came up with a solution to this problem. Celestia is the first modular blockchain network. Celestia is a unique layer-1 blockchain whose only job is to order transactions and verify that the published data is available. Celestia only functions as a consensus and data availability layer. It does not perform execution or transaction settlement. Decoupling consensus and execution enables other chains to become more sovereign and flexible by choosing their own execution and settlement environments.
Celestia uses a mathematical primitive called Erasure Coding to enable random sampling of erasure-coded data (called Data Availability Sampling). This technique allows for the block size to be increased exponentially, subject to sampling parameters and the number of light clients. The trust-minimized light clients who conduct data availability sampling can verify that the block’s data is available. Since nodes don’t have to verify that transactions are valid, light nodes can fully verify a block with minimal hardware requirements. This is something that typical light clients can’t do because they only check block headers.
The Celestia network is launched on Devnet, which is running smoothly. Celestia’s Testnet and Mainnet are planned to be launched toward the end of 2022. The network token is also planned to be announced around the same time.
The Project company Celestia Labs (incorporated as Strange Loop Labs AG) is located in Liechtenstein.
Our researchers gave Celestia a final rating of 67.30%. (Note: The tokenomics of Celestia’s token are not considered in this rating). The breakdown of this rating is available at the end of this report.
PRODUCT & COMPANY DESCRIPTION
Introduction to Celestia
Celestia is a Layer-1 blockchain that orders transactions and verifies that blockchain data is available. Celestia is the result of academic research work conducted by Mustafa Al-Bassam, primarily in the blockchain data availability and scalability sphere. The project’s origins can be traced to an academic prototype named LazyLedger, later rebranded to Celestia.
To Mustafa’s thesis, Celestia is a scalable design paradigm for blockchains where the chain is only used as a data availability layer to post-ordered messages, but those messages are executed only by end-user clients rather than consensus nodes. The Celestia chain is a verifiable log that orders messages and does not try to interpret messages that the clients could perform. This means that Celestia modularizes blockchain technology as we know it by decoupling consensus from execution. Put in another way, Celestia enables a Modular Blockchain world as opposed to the current status quo of monolithic blockchains.
Celestia provides a pluggable consensus and data availability layer for blockchains, including rollups. Therefore, Celestia sits at the bottom of the blockchain stack, and it does not provide an on-chain smart contract environment which is common to most traditional (or monolithic) blockchains. At the heart of Celestia’s design, it uses a mathematical primitive called Erasure Coding (two-dimensional Reed-Solomon erasure codes specifically) to enable random sampling of erasure-coded data (called Data Availability Sampling).
Celestia is a minimal blockchain based on a Proof-of-Stake consensus mechanism (Tendermint based). Celestia’s state machine manages its validator set, and Celestia is not entirely stateless. The state machine pays fees to validators for the inclusion of rollup blocks.
Layers of the blockchain stack. Source: Celestia
Celestia has set the following goals for itself:
- Availability-only block validity.
- Application message retrieval partitioning.
- Application message retrieval completeness.
- Application state sovereignty.
The advantages of Celestia are:
- It offers the opportunity to deploy a blockchain as easily as a smart contract.
- Scaling is made simple with data availability sampling.
- Secure interoperability for all Celestia chains.
- Users can choose their execution environment.
Celestia has introduced or is working on products aimed at the Ethereum and Cosmos ecosystems.
Celestiums: Celestia offers Celestiums, secure off-chain data availability Ethereum layer-2 products. In Celestiums, Ethereum rollups use the Celestia data availability layer and the Quantum Gravity Bridge to realize better trade-offs over other solutions (e.g., Validiums to use off-chain data availability and Volitions which can support on-chain and off-chain data availability.
Cevmos: A specialized settlement layer for EVM rollups. This settlement chain is Evmos-based (Cosmos SDK chain with the EVM built-in) and implemented as a Celestia rollup using Optimint.
Architectural Illustration of Quantum Gravity Bridge. Source: Celestia Blog
The primary problem Celestia is attempting to solve is the Data Availability Problem (DAP). Data availability refers to the ability for transaction data to be made available for nodes to download. Data availability is essential for blockchains because the blockchain state can not be updated without data. To check data availability, nodes have to download the entire block. The problem relies on how a node can be sure that all the data in a newly produced block was actually published to the network. If the block producer withholds data in a block, no one can detect hidden transactions in that block. The DAP is important in several scaling solutions, increasing the block size, sharding, and rollups. (Follow this thread for a simple explanation). There are two solutions to this problem, i) To download all the data (which defeats the whole purpose of light clients), and ii) data availability proofs.
Additionally, Celestia also addresses other blockchain constraints and could improve upon them.
In monolithic blockchains (almost all Layer-1 blockchains), one has to run either a full node or a light client that trusts the validator set. Celestia brings a complete paradigm shift to the incumbent setup in which solutions (plugins, rollups) could exist with one or more light-clients trust minimized through data availability proofs and fraud proofs. Moreover, rollup chains on Celestia can communicate cross-chain in a trust-minimized manner. Consequently, Celestia’s trust-minimized light clients can deliver security, scalability, and interoperability.
Celestia reduces the block verification problem to data availability verification and achieves modularity by decoupling execution and consensus. At its core, decoupling helps solve the DAP. The current status quo is that nodes need to validate the contents of blocks. This, however, may not be required in a modular world. Application end-users could take charge of validating the contents. Therefore, Celestia nodes could focus on verifying that the contents of a block are available. Moreover, applications could freely write application logic off-chain in any programming language without changing the blockchain layer, viz-a-viz hard-forking, thereby retaining its sovereignty and customizability (e.g., sovereign rollup chains that handle both execution and settlement).
Ethereum rollups either rely on on-chain or off-chain data availability solutions. Both solutions offer trade-offs: Data Availability Committees (DAC), for example, are an off-chain solution that involves a trusted setup. The DAC suffers from a Nothing-at-Stake problem, and there are no crypto-economic guarantees to incentivize or penalize behavior. Rollups also make their data available by posting call data directly to Ethereum. However, call data on Ethereum is a costly affair, especially at scale as rollups onboard more users. Ethereum seeks to resolve this issue via EIP-4844 (discussed in the risks section below). Celestia proposed Celestiums as a solution to this problem.
Ethereum Rollups: On-chain and Off-chain Data Availability (DA) mechanisms. Source: DAOn the Rabbithole Podcast
Development Progress of Celestia
The initial LazyLedger protocol lays the foundation for Celestia. At the same time, two other scientific papers (on Fraud and Data Availability Proofs and Securely Scaling Blockchain Base Layers – Mustafa’s doctoral thesis) by Mustafa and other authors provide theoretical underpinnings of Celestia’s design.
The project launched its Minimum Viable Product (MVP), a data availability sampling light client, in June 2021, delivering on one of the critical milestones in its roadmap. Later on, Celestia launched its devnet. The devnet consists of Celestia Nodes, Celestia App, and Optimint. The devnet’s activity can be checked on its block explorer- Celestia Observer. After building more features, the team plans to launch a public testnet.
Celestia’s team also introduced the Quantum Gravity Bridge (QGB) project. The QGB is a Celestia-to-Ethereum data availability (DA) bridge currently under development. The other use case the project team is exploring is a settlement layer for EVM rollups to deploy natively on Celestia.
Celestia’s Go-to-Market strategy currently revolves around two solutions, namely i) Celestia native rollups and ii) Celestiums – an enabler for Ethereum rollups. In addition, the project has worked with Evmos to design Cevmos, a settlement layer that sits between Celestia’s consensus layer and other execution layers (applications). Anyone could replicate this model by building other settlement solutions on Celestia.
Celestia is a fully open-source project. The project openly invites developers to sign up and try its limited-access developer beta.
Celestia strives to solve a critical problem in the blockchain world. The modular blockchain concept can also significantly improve the status quo of the blockchain space as we know it—for example, scalability, interoperability, lower bootstrapping costs, and ease of experimentation. Celestia is also a first-mover in the data availability space and, therefore, potentially stands to set the market’s direction. Moreover, the project boasts a very experienced and technically strong team capable of delivering their planned product.
However, Celestia is still under active development and has only launched on devnet (which is working smoothly). Therefore, it can not be used in production. Once the software is hardened, the team plans to launch its product on a public testnet (incentivized), at which stage the Product-Market-Fit could be gauged.
From the lens of the Market-Protocol-Fit proposed by the researchers at Otherinternet, Celestia has progressed in terms of i) Promise distribution – narrative buy-in (e.g., Mezcal, link here) and infrastructure build-out (or a Minimum Viable Promise but no token distribution yet). ii) Utility discovery – only a developer prototype (yet to provide real utility and tooling to attract use cases to drive growth).
Based on our understanding, there are several success factors for the project. These factors are:
- Celestia’s novel concept (modular blockchains) and pioneering research work give it a strong early mover advantage.
- Celestia enjoys a solid, experienced, growing technical team (growing). An industry-leading advisory panel also supports the team.
- The project has a strong investor base’s backing (financial and otherwise).
- The project has attracted a great deal of attention in the industry and a growing and engaging community.
MARKET CONDITIONS AND COMPETITION
Modular blockchains (as opposed to monolithic) are a relatively new concept that has gained attention. Celestia has pioneered the idea, and it has been an extensively studied concept since. It is expected that modularity could enable the growth of the blockchain world, similar to how the Division of Labor and Specialization helped accelerate growth in many sectors, including IT. The Ethereum network itself is now pivoting toward a more modular future with its upcoming upgrades and therefore heading toward a rollup-centric modular architecture. Consequently, the progression toward a modular blockchain world will likely be a growing phenomenon.
The modular blockchain is a relatively new development. Therefore, Celestia is facing a less competitive landscape.
However, Ethereum is moving toward a more modular future and would probably remain a semi-modular blockchain upon its sharding implementation. Some of the crucial developments in this regard are the rollup-centric roadmap, EIP-4844, and Danksharding. If Ethereum addresses critical pain points relating to data availability, it will make sense for developers to remain within the ecosystem as they may not encounter specific technical nuances involved in dealing with a separate consensus and data availability layer. On the flip side, when Ethereum becomes more modular, it becomes easier for pluggable chains like Celestia to co-exist with Ethereum.
Polygon Avail is another project that competes directly with Celestia.
It is also worth highlighting that data availability is not a completely unattended problem by any party. Individual blockchain ecosystems (Layer-1s) have already implemented different mechanisms to address this risk. For example, Polkadot’s design involves an availability scheme that uses erasure coding (of parachain blobs) to distribute Proof-of-Validity (PoV) blocks to validators. Similarly, the Octopus Network (an Appchain network) initially proposed a challenge-response game to address data availability. However, it remains likely that Octopus Network will become a client of Celestia in the future.
Celestia is an open-source project. The project has launched its devnet. The devnet consists of two individual but interconnected networks to provide data availability services. These two networks are:
- Celestia-core network (Consensus network): Handles the underlying consensus (PoS) and block production.
- Data Availability (DA) network: Relays and processes blocks from the Celestia-core network and Light Nodes. Light Nodes conduct DA sampling of the blocks.
Celestia’s Devnet Architecture. Source: GitHub/celestiaorg
The Bridge Nodes perform a vital function in this architecture. They can essentially become validators in the consensus network (although there is a limit of 100 validator bridge nodes). The bridge nodes also validate and erasure code the raw blocks. Light Nodes are, in turn, provided with block shares with data availability headers.
In addition, the Bridge Node runs two separate processes. Namely:
The Celestia App (built on Cosmos SDK) consists of two parts, i.e., Celestia VM and Celestia Core. Celestia VM is the state machine where the application and proof-of-stake logic are run. Celestia Core is the state interaction, consensus, and block production layer. This element is built on a modified version of Tendermin Core to accommodate erasure-coded blocks and other Celestia requirements.
Referred to sometimes as the “Halo” network, Celestia Node boosts Celestia App with a separate libp2p network that serves data availability sampling requests.
Celestia (Validator) Bridge Nodes. Source: GitHub/celestiaorg
Core Components of the MVP Light Clients (or Celestia Light Nodes):
Namespaced Merkle Tree (NMT) Library: A binary Merkle tree sorted by namespace. The NMT is a modification to Tendermint’s Merkle Tree. The difference between this NMT from a regular MT is that any rollups using Celestia could download data only relevant to it.
2-Dimensional Reed-Solomon Merkle Tree: An encoding mechanism to erasure code block data such that NMT and erasure-coded block compute row and column Merkle roots. Celestia introduces another modification to Tendermint in this instance.
IPLD Plugin and modified IPFS: block producers commit data to permit data sampling by light clients. NMT data can then be stored in a content addressable manner.
An exciting design benefit of Celestia is that the light clients depend on numbers to achieve strong security guarantees. With a minimum number of light clients, original block data is recoverable with all the samples taken individually by light clients, thereby reducing the risk of accepting invalid blocks. Moreover, a higher number of light clients can verify larger blocks. Lastly, light clients are vital for interoperability designs (e.g., IBC). Hence, light clients could deliver security, scalability, and interoperability to the Celestia ecosystem.
Note: Celestia’s devnet may evolve. The Mainnet architecture may look different from the discussed Devnet architecture since the Celestia team continuously improves it.
Celestia has not yet been launched on Testnet, and therefore, a security audit might be conducted later (possibly closer to the mainnet launch).
Celestia’s high-level roadmap only shows the expected milestones for 2022 up to the launch of Mainnet.
Celestia’s current roadmap. Source: Celestia
The project has a complete list of features and issues for testnet and milestones in their project board. As discussed in Discord conversations, the Celestia Incentivized Testnet will happen around Q3 2022.
Celestia’s team is comprised of members with strong academic and professional backgrounds. This energetic team and its members have founded successful projects that have been acquisition targets of tech giants like Facebook. Moreover, the team members have gained experience working for large tech companies like Google, as well as startups in the blockchain and crypto space.
Mustafa Al-Bassam, Co-founder & CEO, is credited as the brain behind the Celestia project, which was inspired by research work conducted by him and his collaborators. The Alan Turing Institute has funded his research work. His research and work experience focused mainly on scaling blockchain, information security, and privacy. Mustafa co-founded Chainspace (later acquired by Facebook). He also functioned as an advisor to Secure Trading and NYM, a privacy project. He obtained his Bachelor’s in Computer Science from King’s College London and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from UCL. Wiki.
Ismail Khoffi (Co-founder & CTO) has a software engineering background and has research interests in blockchain, cryptography, security, and privacy. Previously, he held software engineering roles at Informal Systems, Interchain Foundation, Tendermint (now Ignite), Google (Ph.D. Intern). In 2019, he functioned as an External Evaluation Expert for the European Commission. He graduated from the University of Bonn.
John Adler, Co-founder & Chief Research officer, worked for Consensys researching blockchain scalability. He co-founded Fuel Labs, an Ethereum scaling solution based on optimistic rollups. Early in his career, John held teaching and research roles with the University of Toronto, from where he obtained his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. His Ph.D. is on hold. He has contributed to several publications, of which his contribution to the concept of optimistic rollups is noteworthy. He is a co-inventor of patented technology filed in 2016.Nick White, Chief Operating Officer, worked for Zeroth.ai as a Senior AI Specialist before co-founding Harmony Protocol. Nick obtained his BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.
Nick White, Chief Operating Officer, worked for Zeroth.ai as a Senior AI Specialist before co-founding Harmony Protocol. Nick obtained his BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.
Celestia has nominated a strong lineup of advisors for the project. Most of the seven advisory members have been involved in many high-profile projects and bring in strong technical skills to draw.
George Danezis is an academic and a practitioner. He obtained both his BA and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Cambridge. Currently, George is a Security and Privacy Engineering professor at University College London. His other present roles are Faculty Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, Advisor to Privitar, Co-founder, and Chief Scientist Mysten Labs.
Morgan Beller is a General Partner at the venture firm NFX. She was a co-creator of the now-defunct Libra project and headed Strategy at Calibra. Morgan has also worked for famous names like Facebook, Medium.com, Andreessen Horowitz, and eBay. She is a graduate of Cornell University.
Zaki Manian has a background in software development. He is a co-founder of Sommelier Protocol and Iqlusion. He also holds a board position at Trusted IoT Alliance. He is a well-known personality in the Cosmos ecosystem; he functioned as a Director of Tendermint Labs for almost three years. Zaki obtained his BA degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Ethan Buchman is a well-known figure in the cryptocurrency industry as a co-founder and CTO of Ignite (previously Tendermint). At present, Ethan is the Chief at CoinCulture CryptoConsulting, Vice President at Interchain Foundation, and CEO of Informal System, an entity active in Formal Verifications and Cosmos ecosystem. He is an alumnus of the University of Guelph.
James Prestwich has a track record as a successful founder and has been a frequent speaker at many blockchain and cryptocurrency events. He is the Founder and COO/CFO of Storj Labs, a distributed storage business. James founded Summa, which was acquired by Celo later. Most recently, he launched Nomad, a cross-chain communications protocol.
The other two advisors, Matthew Di Ferrante, and Marko Baricevic have software engineering backgrounds (especially in blockchain security and audit).
General Comments on the Team & Advisors
As per Celestia’s careers page, the project continuously hires engineering skills since the project is in heavy development.
During our review period, we did not find evidence that the team members have taken part in any previous or current illegal projects or projects that were controversial. We did not find evidence of the Advisors’ involvement in any controversial projects either.
LEGAL AND COMPLIANCE SPECIFICS
Celestia Labs is incorporated as Strange Loop Labs AG, in Liechtenstein.
Celestia is expected to benefit from Liechtenstein’s active and friendly blockchain and crypto environment. The Financial Market Authority in Liechtenstein is responsible for regulating and supervising all crypto affairs. Since 2018, Liechtenstein has implemented favorable laws to promote foreign investment by crypto firms. In October 2020, the Parliament approved the country’s Blockchain Act unanimously.
Celestia Labs raised a strategic seed funding round from a group of institutional and individual investors.
Tharsis Labs, an interoperability and EVM solutions provider for Cosmos Network, announced that Celestia was working with its EVMOS solution to build a settlement layer for EVM Rollups called Cevmos.
The project has not appointed legal advisors or team members responsible for legal matters. However, Celestia has assigned a strong panel of Advisors who have been involved in many high-profile projects. Therefore, it is expected that the advisors are in a position to introduce or connect the team to suitable legal resources when the need arises.
KYC & AML
The project is yet to launch its token.
Celestia will have a protocol token that will serve the utilities of:
- Securing the network via Proof-of-Stake.
- Paying for transaction fees on the network.
Therefore, the token could be categorized as a Utility Token. However, it will be helpful to watch the progression of the protocol governance since, currently, Celestia Labs (Strange Loop Labs AG) manages its growth acceleration.
Celestia has not announced a token offering yet. The project would likely reveal a token launch toward the mainnet activation end of 2022. The project has disclosed that it plans to implement a fee-burn mechanism similar to EIP-1559 in Ethereum so that burnt fees will offset new token issuance as Celestia gains adoption.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND VIRALITY
Celestia has an active presence on Twitter and a count of 43.7k followers. The project is also using a Typefully platform to manage Twitter posts. Typefully acts similar to a micro-blogging platform, and users could find simplified explanations of Celestia’s underlying technology on its Typefully platform. The project also recently started engaging with the community via Twitter Spaces, where it invited Twitter personalities/thought leaders or research personnel from the industry to talk about Celestia and the concepts underpinning its technology.
Celestia’s most active social channels are Discord and Telegram. Its Discord subscriber base almost grew 3x from January 2022 to March 2022, reaching 31k subscribers. Similarly, Telegram nearly doubled its number of followers to 9.1k during the same period. Both Discord and Telegram are great venues for valuable discussions. The management team (including the CEO) actively contributes to conversations with the community on these social channels.
Celestia Forum is the ideal place for related discussions on highly technical subjects. Celestia’s blog is another source of informative content. Similarly, blog posts by industry researchers like Polynya have helped attract particular interest toward the concept of modular blockchains and rollups.
LinkedIn is a channel where Celestia is inactive. There are 266 followers on its LinkedIn profile. As of the date of this report, the team has not posted on LinkedIn.
Celestia’s YouTube channel is relatively new. However, the channel has uploaded several videos of talks and panel discussions in which team members participated. These videos are of very high quality and educational to anyone looking to acquaint with Celestia and the problems it addresses.
There are also numerous other podcast episodes and YouTube videos available out there. The Celestia team is doing a commendable job of explaining this highly technically complex project to the audience.
RISKS TO THE PROJECT
The following outlined list of risks is not an exhaustive one. Some risks may be minor/or not materialize. However, as the protocol grows, the presence of these risks may become more critical.
- User side challenges: The potential users of Celestia may have designed its chains or protocols to fit a monolithic blockchain architecture. Therefore, switching to a modular stack like Celestia could become a technically cumbersome process for developers. Moreover, developers may hesitate if a switch involves learning new skills. However, this risk may be short-term, and it may become less of an issue in the long run.
- Market reception/adoption: Celestia’s design achieves scalability growth in a linear fashion in which an increased number of light clients means larger block sizes. However, if the project could not bootstrap enough numbers, the project could stagnate (scalability limitations). The team could mitigate this risk with a robust marketing plan, shipping developer tooling, and strong crypto economic designs. The team is already doing a commendable job on marketing and promotion.
- Technical challenges: Celestia is still under heavy development, so there may be many unforeseen technical challenges to overcome over the road to Mainnet (and beyond). For instance, it is technically feasible for an attacker to circumvent the scheme by releasing a fully unavailable block if there is no minimum number of light clients to recover erasure-coded data and there are not enough honest nodes (the honest minority assumptions). It is noted that these are solvable challenges.
- Evolving space: Technology is evolving rapidly in the blockchain space, scaling issues, transaction costs, and security are all being addressed with many experimental solutions. For instance, concerning Ethereum, EIP-4844 Shard Blob Transactions (also called proto-danksharding) aims to be a stop-gap solution (until data sharding is implemented later) to scale the data availability of Ethereum. These data blobs are expected to be extremely large and can be cheaper than a similar amount of calldata. As discussed in this report, other monolithic chains are also taking steps to address the Data Availability Problem with data sharding, erasure coding, and Appchains. The challenge or the risk here is that if the L-1 becomes more affordable than a separate module, it will make sense to use the L-1 for rollups. However, the outcome will depend on how robust are the alternatives to Celestia.
- Regulatory risks: This risk arises from a general uncertainty around the regulatory environment toward the crypto space. Therefore, this risk is common to most players in the industry.
Everything you see in this report is the aggregate result of an extensive research process carried out by a distributed team of researchers and crypto enthusiasts around the world. The process consists of 60 questions divided into three phases. Researchers are called to answer these questions about a project, while providing links or screenshots as evidence to support their answers. For every answer, they also provide a rating from zero to ten. The average of their ratings is detailed below.
Our researchers gave Celestia a final rating of 67.30%.
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