Driven reportedly more by the effort of entertainment companies to police their content and punish those who infringe copyrights than by the increasing number of countries adding further restrictions on what their people can or can't do online, a group of German hackers is trying to start a movement to build a communications satellite that could support unrestricted channels on the Internet.
The project, called the Hackerspace Global Grid, would consist of at least one satellite in low-Earth orbit providing connections among independent ground stations – creating a network of nodes completely independent of the Internet itself.
"The first goal is an uncensorable internet in space," said hacktivist Nick Farr, who began the call for a satellite project in August in response to new Internet restrictions in China, Libya, Syria and other authoritarian countries as well as pressure to suppress commercial content in Western countries with laws such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa). "Let's take the Internet out of the control of terrestrial entities."
Farr was among the activists pitching the project at the Chaos Communications Congress in Berlin in August at which the group presented the project in detail. The Congress is an annual hacker conference sponsored by the German Chaos Computer Club – an anomaly among hacker groups in that it has been in operation so long it has become respectable as much as a political movement opposing restrictive rules on digital life as for the hacking activity of some members.
The Hackerspace Global Grid (working project site here)is daunting for its ambition to put a satellite into space, primarily due to the difficulty and expense of launching it on someone else's rocket. Building the satellite would be much simpler, and the ground stations would be easier still, according to project sources quoted in a Techspot story about its launch.
Ground stations would cost between $100 and $150 for receivers that would use GPS to determine where the satellite should be and zero in on its signal, they said.
The satellite is likely to be based on work done to develop low-cost satellites by the Amateur Radio Satellite (AMSAT) association in England and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., a specialist in small satellites that was spun out of the University of Surrey and with Constellation, a German aerospace research collective.
Building the satellite and launching it are still problems being solved, but prototypes for different types of ground stations could be ready by the middle of this year, Farr told the BBC.
Aside from the complexity of building the sat, expense and red tape of getting it loaded on an appropriate rocket and placed in the right orbit is the possibility that one or more governments in countries the project is based will delay or stop it all together.
Most have a hard enough time tolerating pirate Internet sites, let alone super-terrestrial independent pirate Internets.
Once all the other pieces are in place, it wouldn't surprise me to see the actual launch delayed by years while its originators fight to get a court to rule that an Internet unrestricted by national or commercial censorship is as good a justification to put another piece of junk in orbit as defense, espionage or, in the case of telecommunications companies, the desire to use publicly owned skies and space to make money for a very few.