For so long, we humans have fantasised about colonising the moon, dreamed about what life might look like, sketched plans to build launching pads, habitats, and whatnot. It has been 50 years since the first lunar landing, and still, it remains a dream. Sad times, we live in! However, a lot of activities are conducted by various space agencies around the globe in an attempt to explore and develop technologies to help us forge ahead as a space-faring species.
The Tipping Point
In this regard, Nokia in collaboration with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) announced its expansion into a new market – ‘Moon’ after acquiring a deal to install the first LTE/4G cellular network on the moon.
The $14.1M (approx €11M) contract awarded to Nokia Bell Labs comes as a part of NASA’s Artemis programme, the US government-funded crewed spaceflight program that has the goal of landing “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon by 2024.
According to NASA, through the “Tipping Point” solicitation, the agency seeks industry-developed space technologies that can foster the development of commercial space capabilities and benefit future NASA missions.
“A technology is considered at a tipping point if an investment in a demonstration will significantly mature the technology, increase the likelihood of infusion into a commercial space application, and bring the technology to market for both government and commercial applications,” it says.
2022: A space odyssey
Nokia Bell Labs, the industrial research arm of Nokia will build and deploy the first ultra-compact, low-power, space-hardened, end-to-end LTE solution on the lunar surface in late 2022. Nokia is partnering with Intuitive Machines for this mission to deliver the equipment to the Moon on their lunar lander.
The company says that the network will self-configure upon deployment and establish the first LTE communications system on the Moon. This network will provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications — vital command and control functions, remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation, and streaming of high definition video.
According to the Finnish company, its LTE network – the precursor to 5G – is ideally suited for providing wireless connectivity for any activity that astronauts need to carry out, enabling voice and video communications capabilities, telemetry, and biometric data exchange, and deployment and control of robotic and sensor payloads.
Designed to withstand harsh conditions
Nokia’s lunar network consists of an LTE Base Station with integrated Evolved Packet Core (EPC) functionalities, LTE User Equipment, RF antennas, and high-reliability operations and maintenance (O&M) control software. As per the company claims, the network will be designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the launch and lunar landing and to operate in the extreme conditions of space.
Nokia plans to supply commercial LTE products and provide technology to expand the commercialisation of LTE, and to pursue space applications of LTE’s successor technology, 5G.
The public-private partnerships established through Tipping Point selections combine NASA resources with industry contributions, shepherding the development of critical space technologies. NASA plans to leverage these innovations for its Artemis program, which will establish sustainable operations on the Moon by the end of the decade in preparation for an expedition to Mars.
Marcus Weldon, Chief Technology Officer at Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs President, says, “Reliable, resilient, and high-capacity communications networks will be key to supporting sustainable human presence on the lunar surface. 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.” Notably, the 4G equipment can be updated to a super-fast 5G network in the future, says Nokia.
Main image credits: Michael Vi/Shutterstock