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NASA builds the first 4G network on the moon; do you know why

SÃO PAULO, SP (UOL / FOLHAPRESS) – Nokia, under contract with NASA, will build the first cellular network on the Moon. The space-based broadband wireless communication system will use 4G/LTE technology. But why not use 5G?

The explanation is related to the greater knowledge about 4G and thus the proven reliability. However, Nokia says the ultimate goal will be to switch to 5G.

Thierry Klein, head of Bell Labs Research at Nokia Bell Labs, recalls that the project began “a few years ago,” with 5G technology being much more modern. “4G, in our view, was certainly the right starting point for validating this technology,” he said in an interview with Fast Company.

The Nokia project started even before contracting with NASA. In 2018, the company signed an agreement with Vodafone Germany to provide a lunar network for a special mission to the moon. However, the company that would deliver the rovers that would be used on the Moon, PTS Scientists, ended up going bankrupt in 2019 and the mission never really took off.

In 2020, NASA awarded Nokia a $14.1 million contract to develop an LTE test system. It could pave the way for a lunar net to be used by astronauts who will live and work on the moon and in satellite orbit, as part of NASA’s Artemis project.

Jason Mitchell, NASA’s Director of Advanced Communications and Navigation Technology, admitted to Fast Company that the current, direct-to-Earth space-based internet system serves current lunar missions well. However, it would not fit into NASA’s more ambitious plans to expand human presence there and then on Mars.

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“We need a solution to intelligently scale and flow data to where it wants to go. In other words, not all data needs to go back to Earth,” Mitchell said.

The initial chassis will be small and will fit a compact robotic unit called the Nova-C, which is being developed by Space Startup Intuitive Machines.

Klein notes that the networking equipment that comes with the Nova-C is the size of a pizza box and includes two additional units. The software used in the system will receive additional protection to resist radiation interference.

“The starting point is a small-cell commercial product from Nokia,” says Klein.

The intention is to launch the IM-1 in the first quarter of 2023.