Can you hear me now, on the moon? Not yet, but Nokia has just signed onto a team that aims to extend 4G coverage to the lunar surface as early as next year.
The Finnish company says it will be Vodafone’s technology partner in an industry-supported moonshot led by PTScientists, a German-based team that was one of the competitors in the soon-to-be-ended Google Lunar X Prize competition.
Even though PTScientists couldn’t make the deadline to go for the prize, it’s still working on a plan to send its Alina lander and two Audi Quattro rovers to the lunar surface. The team has a contract with Seattle-based Spaceflight to ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket or an alternative by as early as 2019.
In line with the X Prize mission scenario, PTScientists aims to beam high-definition video from the lunar surface to Earth. Vodafone is planning to set up a 4G mobile network as a data connection between the rovers and a base station on the lander.
Nokia Bell Labs will take on the task of creating a space-grade version of its Ultra Compact Network system that will weigh less than a kilogram (2.2 pounds). That’ll facilitate sending data to the base station and onward to Earth.
“Vodafone testing indicates that the base station should be able to broadcast 4G using the 1800 MHz frequency band and send back the first-ever live HD video feed of the moon’s surface, which will be broadcast to a global audience via a deep-space link that interconnects with the PTScientists server in the Mission Control Center in Berlin,” Nokia said today in a news release.
Reuters quoted an unnamed executive at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as saying the team went with 4G rather than the emerging 5G standard because 5G technology is still in the trial stage and not quite settled enough for use in the lunar environment.
PTScientists’ mission calls for careful study of NASA’s Apollo 17 lunar roving vehicle, which was driven around the moon’s Taurus-Littrow Valley during the last crewed lunar mission in 1972.
In a statement, PTScientists founder and CEO Robert Böhme said he saw next year’s mission as “a crucial first step for sustainable exploration of the solar system.”
“With ‘Mission to the Moon,’ we will establish and test the first elements of a dedicated communications network on the moon,” Böhme said. “The great thing about this LTE solution is that it saves so much power, and the less energy we use sending data, the more we have to do science!”
Update for 12:45 p.m. PT Feb. 27: This report has been updated with further detail on PTScientists’ launch arrangements.