Most of the discussion about mobile networks is currently centered on 5G. However, NASA has its sights set on other priorities. The space agency recently tapped Nokia to help develop the world’s first extra-planetary cellular network.
Together, the duo will build a 4G LTE network for the moon that will allow astronauts to communicate with high-speed data while exploring the lunar surface. The project is part of NASA’s Artemis program, the same initiative that aims to send humans back to the moon, including the first woman.
It will also play an integral part in the agency’s plan to construct a sustainable, permanent base on the moon by 2028.
Most people probably associate Nokia with its “indestructible” phones that were exceedingly popular in the ‘90s and early 2000s. Despite the fact that Nokia’s brand has become a bit of a meme in recent years, the company still has plenty of networking muscle. It has quietly transitioned from being a consumer-facing brand to one that delivers high-end equipment for cellular network providers.
NASA will be tapping into that cellular prowess for its lunar 4G LTE network. For those that still struggle to find a strong connection here on Earth, the idea of a better network going to the moon might be aggravating. Nonetheless, it will be key to NASA’s future goals on the moon.
In order to reach its 2028 target for building a lunar base, NASA is leaning heavily into a number of futuristic technologies. It has awarded $370 million in total to more than a dozen companies to pursue these innovations. Things like robotics, safe landing systems, cryogenic freezing, and remote power generation are all on the table.
Now, the agency claims that a lunar 4G network could give astronauts a more reliable way to communicate over long distances than the radio devices used in the past.
For this project, Nokia’s Bell Labs division was granted $14.1 million. It will partner with Intuitive Machines to create the moon’s first 4G network. Eventually, it will even be upgraded to 5G.
The need for a 4G network on the moon might seem excessive. However, it will play a critical role in helping astronauts achieve their next missions on the moon.
Bell Labs says that the network will be used for everything from data transmission to streaming high-definition video. It will also be useful for things like controlling lunar rovers and real-time navigation across the moon’s surface. Yes, like Google Maps for the moon.
Of course, regular network technologies aren’t exactly built for the harsh lunar climate. The 4G network will forego the typical towers in favor of small cells that offer less range but also consume less power. They’re also easier to transport into space. If small cell tech sounds familiar, that’s because it is currently being used to power 5G deployments here on Earth.
Meanwhile, the moon’s first 4G network will be built to withstand things like space’s vacuum, radiation, and extreme temperature changes. As a bonus, it will even stay operational during lunar landings and launches.
By adding cell service to the moon, NASA is making it a much more feasible location for a real-life lunar base.