NASA hires Nokia to build first 4G network on the Moon as part of plan to boldly go back to lunar surface by 2024

And 5G hype goes out of this world


NASA has hired Nokia to build a 4G network on the Moon, paying the telecoms manufacturer $14.1m to set up a communications system that will give astronauts voice, data, triangulation, and video-on-demand.

This little detail was among 14 contract awards from the space agency for its planned Project Artemis Moon landing in 2024. These included more traditional space projects, such as Lockheed’s $90m to test a dozen “cryogenic fluid management technologies” and Intuitive Machines' $42m to design a “deployable hopper lander capable of carrying a 1kg payload more than 1.5 miles.” And all that's going to need data network coverage to connect it all up wirelessly, and this is where Nokia steps in.

Nokia’s American subsidiary, the iconic Bell Labs, will “deploy the first LTE/4G communications system in space,” which will “support lunar surface communications at greater distances, increased speeds, and provide more reliability than current standards.”

The Finnish-owned laboratory tweeted more details of the plan, noting the technology will “help pave the way towards sustainable human presence on the lunar surface,” and claiming it “will be the critical communications fabric for data transmission applications, including the control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation over lunar geography, & streaming of high definition video.” So basically making sure astronauts don’t get lost while watching their favorite episode of Lost.

Cassini snaps Saturn's Dione moon. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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4G kit is pretty cheap, so why the hefty price tag? Nokia noted that the equipment itself is going to have to be a little more robust than usual “to withstand the extreme temperature, radiation and vacuum conditions of space, as well as the sizable vibrational impact during launch and landing on the lunar surface.”

The mobile giant also couldn’t resist sticking in some 5G hype, noting that it will “deploy the first wireless network on the Moon, starting with 4G/LTE technologies and evolving to 5G.”

Germany goes up, up and part of the way

Amazingly this isn’t the only phones-in-space-ish news this week: Deutsche Telekom announced it flew a base station in the lower-end of the stratosphere as a theoretical alternative to satellites.

Together with Brit startup Stratospheric Platforms, the German telco said the base station – onboard a remote-controlled plane at 14 km (46,000 feet) – connected to its 4G network on the ground.

The base station in the sky can cover an area on Earth of roughly 100 km across, the company said, and relay voice and data to and from ground networks and faraway devices, boosting the coverage of those ground networks. And, of course, it also inserted the ubiquitous 5G hype, noting that flying base stations would help build out 5G and support the wave of innovations that are just around the corner. Promise.

Both Google and Facebook have attempted similar plans with Google’s Loon high-altitude balloons and Facebook’s Aquila solar-powered drone. Loon is still ongoing: Google recently asked the FCC to approve tests in the 3.5GHz range to connect its High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) – big balloons – to systems on the ground. Facebook killed off Aquila, saying it wasn’t feasible. ®

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