An online appeal to raise $150,000 to buy Terrestar-1 and rain bandwidth down on the Third World has already topped $16,000, despite the obstacles ahead of the project.
The plan is to buy Terrestar-1 off the bankrupt TerreStar satellite phone operation, then drive it round to somewhere over the developing world and offer internet access to the disenfranchised masses ... all of which sounds lovely until one takes a moment to think about the technical, logistical and financial issues involved.
Obviously $150,000 isn't going to buy a satellite, even from a bankrupt. When TerreStar finally goes titsup, its bird will most likely end up owned by EchoStar - its biggest creditor – who are going to want more than a few hundred grand for it. So the $150,000 that Buy This Satellite is trying to raise is just to put together a business plan, in order to work out how much money the project will actually need.
Once the money is raised, there's the question of moving the bird. TerreStar-1 is positioned to provide satellite phone coverage to the USA (which it is currently doing). Moving it might present a challenge: satellites have limited fuel and have to use some to periodically correct their orbit - and to dodge rogue satellites such as Galaxy 15, which is still careering across the sky to the annoyance of all and sundry. Burning fuel for a change of orbit will shorten the life of the satellite enormously, but that's OK as there won't be anyone on the ground to use it anyway.
The lack of ground equipment will, apparently, not be a problem - "We're building our own open-source low-cost modem which will make getting online easy" says the Buy This Satellite FAQ. We're assuming they mean Earth Station, but at this point it seems petty to point that out.
Speaking of Earth Stations, there's no mention of how the internet access is going to be managed or from where the satellite will be handled – but that will depend on where they decide to park the thing.
But what the hell.
It's easy to sneer (really... very easy indeed), but why not buy a satellite designed to carry voice across America, fly it round the world, design a cheap Earth Station to provide internet access to the Third World funded by selling high-speed access* to rich people while providing low-speed access to the poor - perhaps connecting all those OLPC devices out there?
We wish Buy This Satellite every success in the world, and look forward to the project changing the internet as we know it. ®
*No, we don't know how to provide high-speed internet over a satellite phone, but let's not be negative.