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'Outernet' plan would use cubesats to beam MOOCs and Wikipedia to the world

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Free WiFi is an idea that just won't go away, with a new proposal calling for it to be made available to everyone in the world via. satellite.

This arrangement is dubbed an “Outernet” by a band of chaps who have floated an idea of how to build one, namely by sending aloft a swarm of tiny satellites that would beam down a subset of the internet that will “bypass censorship, ensure privacy, and offer a universally-accessible information service at no cost to global citizens.”

Sites Outernet's promoters feel are worthy of that treatment include Wikipedia, the Khan Academy, Coursera, Open Streetmap, Ubuntu and Bitcoin blockchains.

The group imagine using cubesats to create the network. Cubesats are Arduino-based devices that have sparked plenty of interest because their low cost and small size means they can be squeezed into International Space Station (ISS) resupply missions. As current cubesats lack engines, ISS astronauts have tossed the devices into orbit and earthbound enthusiasts have been able to track the tiny devices' as they orbit earth for a time.

Because they lack propulsion, cubesats are built with the assumption their orbits will become untenable and end badly. Outernet plans don't explain fleet replenishment plans, but do offer this outline of how the network would deliver:

“Each satellite receives data streams from a network of ground stations and transmits that data in a continuous loop until new content is received. In order to serve the widest possible global audience, the entire constellation utilizes UDP-based multicasting over WiFi. Although still not common, WiFi multicasting is a proven technology, especially when the data requires only one hop to reach the recipient.”

Outernet is seeking donations (not crowdfunding) and has set up forums to discuss the ideas outlined on its site. ®

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