Not really. We are now living what was perhaps just a science fiction novel a few decades ago. NASA recently announced that it will partner with Bell Labs, the owner of Nokia, and Intuitive Machines to build the first 4G LTE network on the moon. The $ 370 million project will create a network that can withstand harsh lunar conditions as well as rocket launches and landings. It will enable communication for a wide variety of data transmission applications that are vital for rovers and other devices crawling over unexplored territory.
Astronauts probably don’t have to worry about, “Can you hear me now?” also every five seconds.
“Reliable, resilient and high-performance communications networks will be key to supporting a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface,” said Marcus Weldon, Nokia Chief Technology Officer and President of Nokia Bell Labs, in a press release. “With the construction of the first high-performance wireless network solution on the moon, Nokia Bell Labs is again setting the flag for groundbreaking innovations that go beyond conventional boundaries.”
The construction of a cellular network on the moon will have nothing to do with the cell towers on earth. These aren’t exactly the easiest things to load onto a rocket, and you want to take off with the least amount of extra weight possible. No protective atmosphere means that the device is exposed to brutal space radiation that can destroy unprepared electronics. Because there is 200 times more radiation on the lunar surface than on the earth’s surface, this system is hardened against cosmic rays and other threats against which it has no built-in defense. It doesn’t matter that temperatures can drop from a scorching 250 to a freezing -208 degrees Fahrenheit on a lunar day.
Artemis astronauts won’t be far from the technological advances on Earth either, as Bell Labs will upgrade the network to 5G in the future. 4G LTE can be downloaded at at least 100 megabits per second. 5G is just emerging, but we’re not exactly there yet (although some networks are trying to upsell). The company couldn’t say anything about frequencies because the technology is still unclear. If so, 5G should allow your phone to download a full length (in HD!) Movie in seconds – that is, at speeds of around a gigabit, or a million bits per second.
“Nokia’s lunar network consists of an LTE base station with built-in Evolved Packet Core (EPC) functions, LTE user devices, RF antennas and highly reliable O&M software,” Nokia said in its press release. “The solution was specially developed to withstand the harsh conditions of take-off and moon landing and to work under extreme space conditions.”
Why is the moon less likely to have dead zones? Zero atmosphere means practically no obstacles. Signals degrade when they hit things like walls, trees, or buildings to prevent communication over an LTE network. NASA will be able to select the desired cellular frequency band. Nor will there be the problem that the earth has with a constantly overloaded radio spectrum. If all users are on the phone, you must log out of the network. That will be resolved immediately on the moon because there won’t be nearly 7.8 billion people trying to get a signal.
You just have to ask yourself what name they are going to give this network. It would be the coolest if your phone ever connects to Moonwalk.
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