FemtoStar: taking aim for the stars

Lukasz Erecinski May 19. 2021 22

Networking and communication is something that has been on our minds as of late. As many of you are surely aware, we have started developing our own solution to private and secure peer-to-peer and group text messaging based on the PineDio gateway system, available next month. While we have high hopes for this system, we are also aware of its limitations. Voice communication and higher-than LoRa® data speeds is something we all rely on in our daily lives, and nothing will change this. If there was only a way to network via a secure and open source friendly manner – enter FemtoStar.

FemtoStar is a mobile satellite service working towards creating a satellite constellation for open and private communications around the globe. Their satellites as well as ground infrastructure run open source software atop of open hardware. The system can be accessed without needing to go through an official gateway, and anyone is welcome to review the source files as well as the code. FemtoStar’s vision is one of a privacy-respecting and net-neutral mobile satellite service that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere and at any time. Moreover, users’ hardware can be used to access the satellite network without prior consent from FemtoStar. All hardware can be used both to connect directly to satellites and to operate on-the-ground services. As for payments: ‘credit processing takes place on-satellite, and works even when no official ground station is available’.

We have now been talking to the people behind the FemtoStar project for some time, and we’ve been both impressed and captivated by their vision. Their idea of a low-cost and decentralized network allowing anonymous, geolocation-resistant communications is something we believe that our community can get behind. To anyone reading this, it is probably clear that we and FemtoStar have many convergent goals. A PineDio gateway can service the neighbourhood with text messaging, while a FemtoStar gateway can service an entire continent with data speeds fast enough to make phone calls or browse the web. In the weeks and months to come we will share more information concerning our mutual engagement, but in the meantime make sure to join their Matrix channel and give their FAQ a thorough read for more insights.

“The FemtoStar Project is excited to see PINE64 join our efforts to develop the world’s first private, truly open-infrastructure, 100-percent-free-and-open-source wide-area communications network. We expect PINE64’s experience with manufacturing and distribution of affordable, mass-market hardware to play a key role in making FemtoStar usable to the largest number of people possible, and look forward to integrating PINE64’s terrestrial LoRa network with FemtoStar’s satellite constellation.”

~ The FemtoStar Project

22 responses to “FemtoStar: taking aim for the stars”

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    m. nease says:

    Count me in. It would be nice to have a link to updates. E.G. availability of app(?) via Libertine etc?

    Hi there!

    We can’t say too much at this moment, but I can say stay tuned, and that you may want to take note the phrase “We expect PINE64’s experience with manufacturing and distribution of affordable, mass-market hardware to play a key role in making FemtoStar usable to the largest number of people possible”.

    zer0sig says:

    That is so awesome. If I can get it working at my condo (limited options) or off of my car, I’d love to do this. Perhaps at my good friend’s farm. I’d be happy to help develop a mobile or easily movable version of this. Might just end up building something small in the woods running off a battery if the power usage stays low – it would with PINE devices and I used to keep my satellite dish on a UPS when I had one – seems I got a few hours out of it, less than cable modems maybe but not bad.

    Stoked about this, and anything that gives communication diversification options especially if open source.

    zer0sig says:

    Awesome! Thanks for fililng me in – I was looking over the philosophy and missed it. That’s awesome. I’d definitely be interested in trying out equipment when possible if I can spare the cash for test gear!

    zer0sig says:

    Looking at femtostar’s website I am ever more stoked. This is forward thinking, visionary stuff. I absolutely would like to try this once there is something I can test from somewhere near me.

    Hi there!

    We’d like to have our first flight-ready prototype, named FemtoStar Y1, complete by the end of 2021, with development hardware becoming progressively more and more complete throughout the year. Once this is done, we will be able to begin manufacturing satellites at our facility in Canada, and getting them into orbit is simply a matter of whenever a rideshare flight to the right orbit is available. If you want to follow along with the project, the best place to do so is our our Matrix room at #femtostar:matrix.org (https://matrix.to/#/!COEHOXujBzfAHAVzPG:matrix.org?via=matrix.org&via=lighthouse.cx&via=nordgedanken.dev). Thanks for your interest!

    – The FemtoStar Project

    Your site is very misleading. It talks about “our satellites”, or “FemtoStar uses a network of satellites to allow communications between terminals on earth” or “All FemtoStar services are delivered on a best-effort basis”, etc…

    But your comment said you don’t even have yet something ready to sent out into orbit!

    Your site doesn’t tell anything about the fact that there are no satellites in orbit (but you have the Earth with moving satellite coverage areas on front page!) or anything about the current status (i.e. FemToStar doesn’t exist; no services).

    You are misleading people and I hate that very much. I hope PINE64 doesn’t fall through this trap.

    Hi there!

    It’s not always easy to write text that strikes a balance between talking about something that’s in-development but really is partially complete and really is on track to finish and making clear that that product is not available yet. For what it’s worth, the first thing on the website says “The FemtoStar Project is a global community developing a satellite constellation”, and I think the site is pretty clear that it’s not complete (though we’re going to adding a project roadmap soon and that should make it even clearer).

    It is certainly not our goal to mislead anyone, especially not our partners, but all of our partners, PINE included, are perfectly aware of the status of the project and so far you are the first person we are aware of who has said they find the site misleading.

    It’s not true at all that the website tries to pass the visualization on the homepage off as an operating constellation – the very site in question says, in the FAQ, that “Practical constellation layouts begin at around 48 satellites (and include the layout shown on our homepage. We have also considered the possibility of starting with a larger constellation of up to 96 satellites, however we believe the most reasonable approach would be to begin with the minimum practical number of satellites (likely 48) and then scale up the constellation with new satellites as needed.”, which I think makes very clear that the layout on the homepage is speculative and, while it’s what we plan on using, it’s certainly not built yet.

    With regards to misleading people, we sincerely hope not, but I do not think that most people would see a website that says “(someone) is developing (thing)” on the front page and not come to the conclusion that (thing) is still in development, especially when nowhere on the site is there a link to actually purchase hardware. If there’s something you’d like to see there to clarified, we’d gladly take your suggestions,

    – The FemtoStar Project

    Yes, learn about the future tense and how to use it, like, “our satellites will be..”, “FemtoStar will use a network of satellites…” or “All FemtoStar services will be delivered on a best-effort basis”, etc…

    If you are not able to provide clear communication and status about the project, I doubt that you’ll be able to make it happened. Right now I see marketing BS.

    Governments will likely want to regulate it, some already block/forbid use of sattelite communication, e.g. China, Russia, India. How do you plan to deal with these attempts to control sattelite use?

    kramer65 says:

    I had never heard of this project, but I’m thrilled to read about femtostar. I’m not sure exactly what form it will take, but for robotics projects I’m really interested in this. We’re building an autonomous solar powered boat with which we plan to cross first the North Sea, and then the Atlantic. For now we use Iridium, but if I understand this correctly in the future we could instead use Femtostar to have a mid-ocean internet connection. I’m just unsure how large these “terminals” will be? Do you guys have any information on this?

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