WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Early Moon colonists will need connectivity too, as well as their daily dose of internet cat sattire.
Over half the people on the planet don’t have access to reliable broadband, although that’s changing with the launch of thousands of SpaceX satellites, but nevertheless that didn’t stop Vodafone a couple of years ago from announcing that they were going to build the world’s first 4G network on the Moon. But now they might be beaten to the punch after NASA, who plan on returning to the Moon by the end of the decade, signed a contract with Nokia to build one.
NASA’s plans to return to the Moon involve not just safely landing humans on the surface, but putting in place the infrastructure to support a long-term lunar base which is why they recently signed a contract with 3D printing company ICON to build their base in years to come. As part of this vision, the agency selected Nokia to help it build the natural satellite’s first ever cellular network, which is expected to be rolled out in late 2022.
The collaboration is part of NASA’s Tipping Point program, through which the agency hopes to accelerate the development of space-based technologies through investments with private firms. It awarded Nokia $14 million for its plan to deploy the first LTE/4G communications system in space, which will be key for NASA’s Artemis program and hopes of establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon.
Nokia’s research arm Bell Labs is teaming up with private space company Intuitive Machines for the effort, and will pack its end-to-end LTE solution into the firm’s lunar lander. This will include an LTE base station, user equipment and RF antennas, all designed to endure the physical demands of launching, landing and operating in space.
Once in place, the network will offer communications support for data transmission, control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and streaming of high-definition video. It will also provide astronauts with greater voice and video communications capabilities, telemetry and biometric data transmission and control over robotic payloads.
“Reliable, resilient and high-capacity communications networks will be key to supporting sustainable human presence on the lunar surface,” says Marcus Weldon, Chief Technology Officer at Nokia. “By building the first high performance wireless network solution on the Moon, Nokia Bell Labs is once again planting the flag for pioneering innovation beyond the conventional limits.”