A group of hobby hackers is planning to launch its own constellation of internet satellites to dodge terrestrial censorship.
While the ground-based campaign against the likes of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) continues, one group of hackers has announced its intention to try and remove nationally-controlled internets from the equation altogether by hosting its own service via private satellites and a series of groundstations. The effort is known as Project HGG (Hackerspace Global Grid), and forms part of an attempted escape from the feared censorship of the internet.
The people behind Project HGG, who describe themselves as "a bunch of hobbyist hackers, tinkerers and part time scientists," came up with the idea when "hacktivist" Nick Farr called for an uncensorable "Hacker Space Program" in August at the Chaos Communication Conference 11 in Berlin. The core team behind Project HGG are based around Stuttgart, Germany.
The project is working with Constellation, an existing German (but English-speaking) platform for aerospace research, to bolster its processing power.
Described by one of its core members as "a kind of reverse GPS," Project HGG will aim to link its satellites to small, individual groundstations which people would be able to purchase for around $130. These static groundstations would form a global network of sorts at the same time as pinpointing the location of the project's satellites, ideally making data transfer quicker and more reliable. The group hopes to have the first of its groundstations available for purchase at the next Chaos Communication Conference later this year.
Could this really work, though? The answers to that question seem to range from "no" to "probably not, no." According to Professor Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey's computing department, launching an amateur satellite is technically possible. Unless it was geostationary (a satellite which stays above a fixed point on Earth), however, the satellite would just whizz past the groundstations without giving them much time to exchange information. Then again, a geostationary satellite has to be so far away from the planet that there would be a noticeable delay in data transfer times.
There's also the question of which national body, if any, would have jurisdiction over the project's proposed satellites. "There is also an interesting legal dimension in that outer space is not governed by the countries over which it floats," said Professor Woodward. "So, theoretically it could be a place for illegal communication to thrive. However, the corollary is that any country could take the law into their own hands and disable the satellites."
It'll be interesting to see where this project leads. While it continues its slow-burning progress, however, the kinds of things which Nick Farr said the project was a protest against are picking up speed. Having been delayed over the holiday break, SOPA is now back on the debating bar, and PIPA won't be far behind it. Erring on the side of the non-affiliated internet satellite network of the future either not working or being a little late to the party, here are a few things you can do to help stop SOPA in the meantime. If you're interested in helping out with Project HGG too, hit this link right here.