Key Takeaways:

  • Nokia is developing a first-of-its-kind LTE/4G network for the Moon.
  • This “network in a box” will be tested on Intuitive Machines’ IM-2 mission later in 2024.
  • The network aims to provide faster and more reliable communication for future lunar missions.
  • Nokia is adapting existing technology for the harsh lunar environment.
  • This could be the first step towards a permanent lunar communication infrastructure.

Texting on the moon? That could very well be a possibility for future lunar astronauts.

Nokia is working on an LTE/4G communications system for the moon, and as early as this year, the network’s first segment could go live. As part of the Intuitive Machine’s IM-2 mission, which is scheduled to land at the moon’s south pole, hardware for a smaller version of the network is scheduled to launch later this year.

Essentially a “network in a box,” Nokia’s equipment will link Intuitive Machines’ Micro-Nova hopper and Lunar Outpost’s MAPP rover with Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander to test the system’s feasibility over both short and long ranges.

Thierry Klein, president of Bell Labs Solutions Research at Nokia, said in a statement that “communications will be a crucial component of any future lunar or Mars mission, like shelter, food, and life support.” “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.”

NASA contracted 14 companies in 2020 to create “tipping point” technologies for the Artemis program; Nokia was given $14.1 million to establish the first lunar cellular network. Instead of creating entirely new technology, Nokia is modifying its current hardware to work on the moon.

If everything goes as scheduled, the 4G/LTE lunar network from Nokia would offer more bandwidth than traditional UHF (ultra-high frequency) systems used for space communication. It would speed up communications between astronauts as well as for autonomous robotic systems operating on the moon. Furthermore, the network might eventually be upgraded to 5G and modified for 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,” said Klein.

“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,” Klein added.

However, not everyone finds the idea of a lunar cell network to be very appealing. Radio astronomers are concerned that a network of this kind might produce radio frequency interference (RFI) that would interfere with radio observations.

But there’s still hope — operators like Nokia could theoretically protect certain frequencies, leaving radio observatories in the clear.

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