The first cellular network on the Moon

Nokia is pushing the boundaries of space exploration by building an LTE/4G network on the lunar surface

Summary

Why is Nokia shooting for the Moon?

Nokia is working with NASA to deploy an LTE/4G network on the Moon in order to demonstrate how advanced cellular technologies can be used for critical communications in future planetary exploration. Scheduled for 2023, the uncrewed, robotic mission will help pave the way to a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface.

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The lunar network

As part of its Tipping Point opportunity, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate encourages industry-developed solutions that will benefit future space missions. With that aim in mind, Nokia is developing a space-hardened LTE/4G network that utilizes some of the same commercial-off-the-shelf components used in commercial LTE networks across the globe. But while it is an LTE system at its heart, it is unlike any cellular network on Earth. Nokia Bell Labs has optimized the network system’s size, weight and power consumption for operations in space while carefully engineering its network elements to withstand the harsh conditions on the Moon’s surface and the extreme dynamic stresses of spaceflight. This network will deploy, configure and operate itself autonomously, and it will be remotely monitored and controlled from Intuitive Machines’ mission control on Earth.

The mission

Nokia’s LTE/4G network will be integrated into an Intuitive Machines Nova-C lander and a Lunar Outpost MAPP rover, which will touch down near the Shackleton Connecting Ridge at the lunar south pole. Once on the lunar surface, the LTE network will provide the critical wireless communication link between the lander and the rover. That connection will allow mission operators to pilot and command the rover remotely, while streaming real-time video and critical telemetry information back to Mission Control on Earth via a direct-to-earth link from the Nova-C lander. Upon successful completion, the mission will show that cellular technologies can meet the critical communications needs for future space missions.

Our history in space

This isn’t Nokia Bell Labs’ first foray into the heavens. Bell Labs provided systems analysis and engineering for every crewed U.S. space program from Mercury to Apollo. In 1962, Bell Labs and NASA launched into orbit Telstar 1, the first communications satellite capable of relaying TV signals between Europe and North America. In 1964, Bell Labs researchers – and future Nobel laureates – Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation left over from the Big Bang, confirming the now predominant theory on the origins of the universe. Nokia researchers have always had an intense scientific curiosity that has led to some of the greatest innovations and discoveries known to humankind.