Parts of the world may struggle to get 4G mobile but that’s not put NASA off from turning to telco giant Nokia to establish a 4G network on the moon. 4G has established its resilience with live streaming from the top of Everest and connecting oil rigs, but the moon?
NASA has a programmed called Artemis which aims to establish a human presence on the moon by 2030. Despite what you may think the 4G moon network isn’t to provide the astronauts with Netflix or access to YouTube, it’s much more prosaic but far more important.
Connections to die for
The network, which will extend approximately five kilometres, is designed to enable communication between astronauts and equipment on the ground. It’s a like a closed smart device network and apparently people dangling around in space ships will benefit from higher throughput, lower latency, and a larger range than they would with Wi-Fi. These are things that some people on earth can only pine for.
With the space-equivalents of smartphones and devices connecting to a local moon-based 4G network the network will transmit data for voice and video communications to remote control lunar rovers. It will also be used for real-time navigation and high-definition video streaming.
Remote control lunaring
In practise this means lunar 4G will be used for experiments such as remotely driving a rover to more distant locations without it getting lost, while transmitting video at the same time.
From small data bytes do huge networks grow and if the Artemis programme goes according to plan the Nokia 4G moon network, could be the forerunner of much more ambitious networking endeavours such as internet access in space.
And in terms of what NASA has already established, such as its extensive network of antennas around the globe to enable communications between space and Earth, the moon network is just one small step.
It’s an ambitious project and not as outlandish as it seems at first glance. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have been using Wi-Fi since 2008, and can connect their spacesuit to the network to stream video from space, communicate with other craft and facilitate docking procedures.
NASA is aiming to ensure the technology works reliably as part of a first, un-crewed mission planned for 2022. This mission is designed partially to test the readiness of the technology and validate some of the key applications before Nokia's 4G infrastructure can be used by actual astronauts. It’s all very impressive.