In nations that censor the Internet — or have tried to — citizens came up with creative ways to get around restrictions. At the Chaos Communications Congress, a gathering of hackers in Berlin, Germany, a call went out to take it one step further and build a satellite network that would provide secure communications outside the control of various governments and corporations.

The idea was presented by Nick Farr, a longtime hacker activist, and outlined further by fellow technology enthusiast Armin Bauer. They proposed building small, cheap ground stations that would link to small, amateur-operated satellites to produce a private communications network. Such a network, they said, could not be censored or easily blocked. 

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Bauer presented some of the preliminary work in building such ground stations with off-the-shelf parts and open-source software. He said he would like to get the cost down to below $130 per ground station.


But getting small satellites into orbit can cost at a minimum $250,000 to $1 million per launch. There are some proposals out there to get very small satellites into orbit cheaply, and the N-Prize is being offered to anyone who can get a nano-satellite into orbit for under $1,565. Some amateurs (such as the California Near Space Project) have launched satellites on balloons, though none have sent one into orbit that way yet.

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There are still bugs to work out, and right now the project, part of the Hackerspace Global Grid, is focusing on receiving data and pinpointing locations. That’s going to be essential for any satellite to communicate with a ground station, as microsatellites tend to operate in low earth orbit and the stations can only track them while they're above the horizon.

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Of course there are also questions about such a network’s legality. While space itself isn’t owned or controlled by any one nation, local radio communications are regulated. In addition, a country that really wanted to block such a network might just try shooting the satellites down or jamming the signal.

But all of that is in the future. For the moment, the focus is on getting the network up and running and providing a secure, reliable communications connection.

Image: Wikimedia Commons