Aerospace & Defence

Nokia to bring 4G cellular to the moon!

3rd May 2024
Harry Fowle
0

Text messaging might soon extend beyond Earth's boundaries to the lunar surface, as Nokia is developing an LTE/4G communications system for the moon, potentially launching its first segment as early as the end of this year. The initial deployment of this simplified network is scheduled alongside Intuitive Machine's IM-2 mission, aimed to land at the moon's south pole.

The proposed system by Nokia, aptly described as a "network in a box," plans to facilitate connections between the Nova-C lunar lander by Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost’s MAPP rover, and the Micro-Nova hopper. This trial will evaluate the network’s effectiveness across both short and extensive lunar distances.

"Like shelter, food, and life support, communications will be a crucial component of any future lunar or Mars mission," stated Thierry Klein, president of Bell Labs Solutions Research at Nokia. He further emphasised the efficiency of leveraging Earth's established technologies for space applications, "Instead of 'reinventing the wheel' by creating a proprietary network in space, we are taking advantage of the same state-of-the-art technologies that connect billions of smartphones on Earth.

In 2020, NASA recognised the potential of such innovations by awarding Nokia $14.1 million to develop the moon’s first cellular network. This strategic approach involves adapting existing terrestrial technology for lunar conditions, rather than inventing entirely new systems from scratch.

Should the deployment proceed without setbacks, Nokia's 4G/LTE network on the moon would surpass the bandwidth capacities of traditional ultra-high frequency (UHF) systems commonly used in space communication. This would not only expedite astronaut communications but also enhance the operability of autonomous lunar robots. Moreover, the network holds potential for future upgrades to 5G and could even adapt for use on Mars.

"Just think about the scale of operations on the moon over the next 20 years. There will be multiple missions in a single year run by different space agencies and even commercial ventures. There will be bases in different regions of the moon," Klein elaborated.

"Having every single mission set up their own communications systems would make no sense economically. Instead, they will need to use the same infrastructure in the same locations and interlink all the different bases on the lunar surface. That is the role of a service provider," added Klein.

4G on the lunar surface: enhancing future missions and colonisation efforts

The introduction of 4G connectivity on the moon could significantly bolster future missions and colonisation efforts. Enhanced data transmission rates would improve operational efficiencies and safety for human crews, facilitating real-time communication back to Earth and between various lunar sites.

The presence of a reliable communications network would also support the burgeoning concept of lunar colonies by ensuring consistent contact, essential for managing life-sustaining systems and emergency responses. Scientific research could advance with the ability to transmit large volumes of data quickly, enabling detailed studies of the lunar environment and beyond.

Furthermore, a robust 4G network could serve as the backbone for an integrated control system for lunar vehicles, habitats, and other critical infrastructure, streamlining operations and reducing the risks associated with remote control from Earth.

While the prospect of a lunar cell network excites many, it raises concerns among radio astronomers about potential radio frequency interference (RFI). However, there is hope that with careful frequency management, these issues can be mitigated, preserving the integrity of celestial observations.

In summary, the deployment of a 4G network on the moon represents a significant leap forward in space communication technology, paving the way for more sophisticated and sustained human activities on the lunar surface.

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