Send in your ideas. Deadline October 1, 2024
Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2020-10
End: 2022-10
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Software engineering

FemtoStar Project

Open Hardware Communications Satellite

The FemtoStar Project is developing a low-cost communications satellite, intended for use as part of a scalable, decentralized network enabling verifiably anonymous, geolocation-resistant communications on a global scale. While many anonymizer services are currently available to users of existing communications systems, these serve simply to separate knowledge of identity (which still lies with the communications service provider) from knowledge of activity (which lies at the exit of the anonymizer service). All current wide-area communications networks are fundamentally identifying (users and their hardware are, at minimum, pseudonymous to the network) and no two-way communications system offers any meaningful degree of resistance to geolocation of the user. The FemtoStar Project intends to use a constellation of FemtoStar satellites to provide global, space-based open communications infrastructure linking users to services (which can be operated by anyone, and require no special ground station installation beyond a regular FemtoStar user terminal) or directly to other users, and requiring no identification or geolocation of user terminals. We are seeking funding for the development of a prototype satellite and user terminal, implementation and testing of the FemtoStar protocol on this hardware, and, dependent on funding amount and regulatory approval, the licensing and launch of one FemtoStar satellite to low earth orbit for system testing and, possibly, for use in a limited open beta service. With prototype hardware and, ideally, with one production satellite in orbit, the FemtoStar Project will be able to validate the FemtoStar system and move towards our goal of operating a scalable constellation for global, verifiably-private communications service - a world-first in privacy technology.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

A lot of users do not really have to consider what it takes to have an internet connection. It Just Works and if it does not, you call up your internet service provider or net maintainer and they send someone around to fix some wires, push some buttons and voila, you are online again. Simplifying complexity has its benefits, as you only need to select a service provider, pay a monthly fee and all the technical complexity is handled for you, behind the screens.

Of course there are also downsides to simple plug-and-play technology. Perhaps the most important thing is that abstracting away complexity can also take away any control or governance over technology you may want to have. In the case of your internet connection, you might want to know who has access to your data, how your traffic can be monitored or influenced, which information can be logged about what you do online. You may think that proper legal protection and consumer rights take care of this. But this is not the case for everyone, especially for internet users living under repressive governments, vulnerable communities like minorities and activists and journalists working in unstable regions.

As an alternative to available connectivity services, FemtoStar is developing a satellite network for transparent, fundamentally anonymous and censorship-resistant communication you can manage yourself. All you need is a user terminal that connects to the network of FemtoStar-satellites and you are online. No identification or geolocation is necessary to have a working connection, ensuring an actual anonymous internet connectivity for anyone who needs to fully trust the cable they plug into their device before going online.

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.

This project is archived. Due to circumstances, the project as planned did not take place. This page is left as a placeholder, for transparency reasons and to perhaps inspire others to take up this work.