NASA to build lunar 4G network
October 20, 2020
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In 2024, NASA is set to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time in decades. This network system could help provide enhanced lunar communications in the years ahead.


Image: NASA

In December 1972, Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan became the last human being to walk on the moon. In 2024, NASA’s Artemis program is set to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time in decades, including the first woman to walk on the moon. To assist with a host of moon operations in the years ahead, NASA recently selected Nokia to create a lunar 4G communication network.

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“Leveraging our rich and successful history in space technologies, from pioneering satellite communication to discovering the cosmic microwave background radiation produced by the Big Bang, we are now building the first ever cellular communications network on the moon,” said CTO at Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs President, Marcus Weldon in a press release.

Last week, NASA announced 14 partnerships to assist with the agency’s future moon and Mars exploration programs. Of this total sum, Nokia of America Corporation has been awarded $14.1 million. Nokia technologies will be used to build and “deploy the first ultra-compact, low-power, space-hardened, end-to-end LTE solution” on the moon, according to the company. This construction and deployment on the lunar surface is scheduled for “late 2022.”

In partnership with Intuitive Machines, Nokia is working to integrate this lunar communication network into a lunar lander for deployment on the moon. Once deployed, the LTE network will “self-configure” to become the “first LTE communications system on the moon,” per Nokia. NASA believes these Nokia solutions could provide faster communication on the lunar surface over greater distances with enhanced reliability compared to current standards.


This photo depicts Eugene Cernan of the Apollo 17 mission aboard the Lunar Roving Vehicle. Cernan is the last person to set foot on the lunar surface.

Image: NASA

Overall, this network will support lunar communications and data transmissions ranging from “vital command and control functions” and real-time lunar navigation to HD video streaming and remotely controlling lunar rovers. The lunar network is made up of an “LTE Base Station with integrated Evolved Packet Core (EPC) functionalities,” RF antennas, operations and maintenance control software, and LTE user equipment, per Nokia.

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Temperatures on the lunar surface can vary wildly compared to Earth. During the day, temperatures near the moon’s equator can reach 250 degrees Fahrenheit and drop to -208 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Nokia explained that this lunar communication system has been engineered to endure the harsh environments of the moon as well as launch and lunar landing operations.

“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,” Weldon said.

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