A Distributed Satellite Ground Station Network for internet freedom

Pierluigi Paganini January 02, 2012

The news that I desire to discuss with you is the will to put into orbit a satellite system to combat new forms of censorship.

The project is certainly ambitious and effective, an hacker group has decided to launch a series of satellites for the composition of an alternative communication platform that would be used in case of censorship.

Along the launching of satellites, the hacker group promises to deliver a complex system of ground stations capable of using communications satellites to the implementations of alternative channels of communication. A new era is beginning, the era of free communication. The project, called “Global Grid Hackerspace“, was presented in Berlin at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin. It is considered the reply to any consorship action, any dangerous regulamentation like SOPA and PIPA are considered.

The project aim is to develop a modular antenna grid for satellite communication, because the hacker community needs a fallback infrastructure in case of natural and economic disaster to stay connected. The solution have to be developed on open-source hard- and software as well as open standards.

The short term goal is to gain insight into the nature, protocols and security features of satellite <> earth communication, building a working prototype of a modular receiver station with networking capabilities.

The midterm goals for Constellation & HGG are:

  • Telemetry and Tracking
  • Receiving and Broadcasting of data
  • Alternative infrastructure for and driven by community
  • Collaboration with active community
Among the ultimate goals so that a network  designed could perform:

  • Atmospheric measurements
  • GPS accuracy measurements
  • Environmental monitoring by wireless communication nets
  • Thunderstorm Strikes & cells
  • Nuclear detonation detection

The hacker activist Nick Farr and his group are working on the project with the collaboration of the Constellation,a German aerospace platform for research projects that use Internet-connected computers to do research in various aerospace related sciences and engineering. The hacker group message is:

“Therefore world domination is achieved by sharing information and making fast, cheap, secure, reliable network connections accesible.”

The team seem to have no doubt on the possibility to launch its satellites into space although having to compare with the restricted available economic resources. Innovation and ingenuity must be the driver concepts of the project, for example for satellites localizzation the German hacker group came up with the idea of a sort of reverse GPS that uses a distributed network of low-cost ground stations that can be bought or built by individuals,each individuals is itself part of the computing grig, being able in this way to pinpoint satellites at any given time improving the transmission of data from the satellites to Earth.

One of the main technology problems to be solved in terms of technology is that of Timing & Synchronization. The synchronization of communications in this specific context is crucial. The group aims to have suggested the use of GPS technology as a source to be used for synchronization and spatial referencing of components. The choice was largely dictated by the prevalence of low-cost devices that allow the use of technology, the possibility to quickly and easily locate any point on the earth’s crust and availability of an accurate pulse-per-second (PPS) signal that can be used to discipline the local clock oscillator to a high degree of precision.

The project is undoubtedly laudable and ambitious but it is easy to understand how dissentcan meet by the various states of the earth. Which government would like to have a satellite on his head without being able to exercise any control? Discounted at this point would havebeen offensive actions against each of the champions of digital freedom. Just the placement of satellites into space would in my opinion the main issue to be addressed and which undoubtedly poses many constraints in the choice of technological solutions to be adopted. In addition to these considerations of a purely technological issue we must consider the approach in terms of information security. Who would ensure secure operation of these satellites? Let us realize that this kind of infrastructure can make the throat to groups of criminals, to government agencies for intelligence operations and other hacker groups in conflict with the owners of the project. Too many, too many risks to be run without any guarantee.

Another objection might be related to the management mode of terrestrial communications and from the satellites. Who will ensure that they are not themselves the subject of espionage or censorship? Remember that to handle the infrastructure will be researchers and scientists, in any case far from any governmental unit groups with intelligence capabilities.

Personally, I am enthusiastic about the idea because I’m profoundly opposed to censorship, but I find it really hard the path to follow. Certainly not be the technological difficulties to put limitations, the group has the necessary skills, but their confidence in an infrastructure whose management is substantially not “guaranteed” due a project choice.

Pierluigi Paganini




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