Satellite for Sale: Buy It, Bring Web to Developing World

Help buy a satellite from a bankrupt firm and bring the Web to the world's poor.

ByABC News
December 2, 2010, 4:18 PM

Dec. 3, 2010— -- A school bus-sized satellite parked over North America is up for grabs – and a group of philanthropically-minded futurists want you to help buy it.

The satellite, Terrestar-1 is the largest commercial communications satellite ever launched into space. But its owner, the TerreStar Corp., has gone bankrupt, leaving the fate of the giant transmitter in doubt.

Instead of letting it stay in corporate hands, a nonprofit group wants to share it with the developing world.

On Friday,, which is charged with bringing the Internet to the digitally disconnected, launched the website Buy This Satellite, hoping to raise $150,000.

In a week, they've raised more than $21,000 from nearly 300 people.

If they make it all the way to their goal, they plan to make a bid for the massive satellite so that they can take it over have it hover over Africa or Southeast Asia, where it could bring Internet access to those who need it. The satellite is in geosynchronous orbit, 23,000 miles high, where it circles the Earth once every 24 hours -- precisely the same rate at which the Earth turns. That way, the satellite remains constantly over one part of the planet.

"We want to connect millions of people to the Web. And we want to be satellite pirates," founder Kostas Grammatis said with a wink.

Grammatis, 25, a visiting researcher at MIT's Media Lab, is no stranger to ambitious, out-of-the-box projects.

He was part of the "eyeborg" team that won a spot on Time magazine's "50 Best Inventions of 2009" list, for developing a video camera-enabled prosthetic eye. Before that, he was an engineer for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which aspires to launch inexpensive commercial rockets into space.

He said this latest project grew out of a "do tank" of thirty people under the age of 30, who convened last year in Germany to discuss the world's future and devise creative solutions.

"Internet access is a human right," Grammatis said. But nearly 5 billion people, out of the planet's nearly 6.9 billion, don't have a way to connect to the Web.

And, he said, information is the key to unlocking so many of the other problems persistent in the developing world, like hunger, the shortage of potable water and healthcare.