Nokia to build a 4G network on the moon for NASA

By Harriet Piercy

Published Oct 20, 2020 at 12:40 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

If you were wondering what Nokia had been up to since the everlasting brick phone, and thought it had dropped off the face of the earth, turns out, it has, in a big way. Nokia is leaps and bounds ahead of the game, yet again—this time, without snakes. It’s off to the moon with more of an ‘ET, call home’ situation in mind. What are NASA and Nokia planning to do out there?

NASA’s plan to make life off Earth comfortable for humans has been in the works for a long time, and it estimates it may no longer be just a dream by as soon as 2030. The Finnish telecom equipment manufacturer Nokia has officially declared that it was selected by NASA to deploy an “ultra-compact, low-power, space-hardened” wireless 4G network on our moon’s surface, with $14.4 million to play with as a part of the space agency’s Artemis programme, which aims to send the first woman, and the next man, to the moon by 2024.

The spectacular investment is part of NASA’s Tipping Point scheme, which will be funding the lunar tech developments for Artemis. Nokia owns the American research company Bell Labs (a company founded by Scottish-born inventor, scientist, and engineer Alexander Graham Bell who is credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone), which will be attempting to build the 4G-LTE network. The mission will ultimately pave the way in testing whether it’s possible to have “human habitation on the moon,” Bell Labs said in a recent tweet.

Spaceflight engineering company Intuitive Machines will also be working on the project with a promise that the initial 4G will, of course, be upgraded to 5G but first, the network must be adapted to the moon’s very unique climate. The network’s equipment will be installed remotely using a lunar hopper that is expected to be finished by late 2022.

Extreme temperatures, radiation and the vibrations of rocket landings and launches will all be considered factors. To combat these potential threats to the project succeeding, the 4G network will use significantly smaller cells than those on Earth, which will reach a smaller range but require less power and are easier to transport.

The firm said in a statement that “The network will self-configure upon deployment,” and added that the wireless technology will allow for “vital command and control functions, remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and streaming of high definition video.”

NASA’s Tipping Point scheme

The Tipping Point scheme sets out to fund lunar technology development for NASA’s Artemis programme, which ultimately has a goal of establishing a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2030. More than $370 million has been given by NASA to 14 small and large US companies across nine states to compliment the achievement of this goal.

NASA also invested around $256 million in cryogenic fluid management technology, which keeps liquefied gases at very low temperatures and are essential for supporting life off Earth. The majority of the funding for the Tipping Point solicitation involving companies of varying specialities is directed towards this particular technology, illustrating the importance NASA as well as other space agencies are placing on the ability to produce fuel from ice harvested around the moon’s polar regions.

The ability to break down water molecules in order to create liquid oxygen (LOX) and hydrogen fuel, then store them at cryogenic temperatures for extended periods of time, and transfer them from one tank to another, seems to be the most crucial part of how humans will transfer themselves for long periods of time, and possibly life, to the moon. From there, Mars will be next in line.

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