Thanks to the isolating effects of the pandemic, our fingers have been somewhat glued to our phones for the best part of 2020. And it seems we’re not the only ones craving a digital connection: Nokia has been selected by NASA to build the first ever 4G cellular network on the moon. The idea is to launch the system in 2022, so that astronauts can stream high definition video even when they’re floating in space. This also marks one step further towards a sustainable human presence on the moon – after all, what’s a planet without WhatsApp?
The project, for which Nokia will be paid a cool $14.1 million, will create an infrastructure tough enough to handle the conditions in space. Nokia’s R&D arm will partner with space engineering company Intuitive Machines to get the system to the moon, where it will handle everything from video calls and data transmission to robotic controls and navigation – a bit like Google Maps for space-goers. In time, they’re hoping to upgrade the network to 5G, which is just now starting to roll out on Earth. There’s even a chance it might work better on the moon, as there won’t be any trees, buildings or TV signals to interfere with signal (which can only be good news if you’re trying to while away the long hours in space by streaming Game of Thrones).
The plan is part of NASA’s most recent Tipping Point public-private partnership program, where it awarded over 370 million to companies building lunar technologies. Nokia might want to have a chat with fellow beneficiary Astrobotic Technology, which was granted $5.8 million to think up a way to charge electronics wirelessly on the moon. After all, a phone signal isn’t much use once your battery’s died.
So why the sudden push? The grants are to tie in with NASA’s project Artemis, which plans to send astronauts back to the moon in 2024 and establish a more permanent human presence there by 2028. ‘Reliable, resilient and high-capacity communications networks will be key to supporting sustainable human presence,’ says Nokia CTO and Bells Labs President Marcus Weldon. Just think of the Instagram posts…