Hackers have announced work on a ground station scheme that would make amateur satellites more viable, as part of an aerospace scheme that ultimately aims for the moon.
The Hackerspace Global Grid (HGG) project hopes to make it possible for amateurs to more accurately track the home-brewed satellites. As these devices tend to be launched by balloon, they are not placed at a precise point in orbit as professional satellites deployed by rocket usually are.
Armin Bauer, one of the three German hobbyists involved in the HGG, said at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin that the system involved a reversal of the standard GPS technique. The scheme was announced at the event, which is Europe's largest hacker conference.
"GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are," Bauer said on Friday, according to the BBC. "We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations."
According to the HGG website, enthusiasts would site the ground stations using coordinates not only from the US's GPS system, but also those from the EU's Galileo, Russia's GLONASS and ground surveys.
A major aim of the wider 'Hacker Space Program' is to create a satellite system for internet communication that is uncensorable by any country. The hackers also want to put someone on the moon by 2034 — something that has not been done since the Apollo 17 mission 39 years ago.
Bauer described the moon mission as "very ambitious". As for the anti-censorship aspects of the scheme, the HGG team said on their site that they are "not yet in a technical position to discuss details".
They also noted that the modular ground stations, which are intended to work out at a non-profit sales price of €100 (£84) each, would be able to work without the internet.
"Then you will have to deploy four receiver stations and connect them to your laptop(s) or collect all storage media added to them, where all received data is stored on," the team wrote. "Then you have to manage the data handling and processing by your own."
However, internet connectivity is the plan for most of the HGG's usage. The team is working on the project alongside Constellation, an German aerospace research platform for academics that would use the distributed network to derive crucial data.
According to Bauer and his colleagues, the internet connectivity would be of "bare minimum" bandwidth that would be enough to keep basic communications going if needed.
"The first step is establishing a means of accurate synchronisation for the distributed network," the team explained. "Next up are building various receiver modules (ADS-B, amateur satellites, etc) and data processing of received signals. A communication/control channel (read: sending data) is a future possibility but there are no fixed plans on how this could be implemented yet."
The HGG team hopes to have working prototypes in the first half of the year, with production units ready for distribution by the end of 2012. These would be sold, but people would be able to build their own as well.
If the Hacker Space Program really does take off, the satellites would be out of any country's legal jurisdiction, but this would also leave any country that is capable of doing so free to disable them in some way.
The HGG team admitted on their site that there would nothing they could do to stop this happening.
"Since we don't have actual satellites yet, this falls in the category of problems we're going to solve once they occur," they wrote. "We're doing this because we want to and because it's fun. We're trying to concentrate on reasons why this will work, not why it won't."