The primary purpose of the wireless technology will be to communicate between a base station and lunar rovers. 4G LTE is a mature and stable technology that can handle data transmission with ease – particularly in an environment where there won’t be any interference. While the initial communications will be limited to a base station and lunar rovers, the choice of 4G will make it easier to integrate future devices like sensors and astronaut cellphones into the network. NASA historically used proprietary communications gear, but it makes a lot more sense to use a communications platform that can easily communicate with a wide range of existing devices.
One challenge Nokia and NASA have to overcome on the moon is that the transmissions will be made between a low-sitting rover to a base station antenna that probably won’t be more than 3 – 5 meters off the ground. While there are no trees or other such obstacles on the moon, there are plenty of boulders and craters that will be a challenge for communications.
Nokia will have one benefit not available on earth – they can use the best spectrum band possible for the transmissions. They can establish wider data channels than are used on earth to accommodate more data within a transmission. Nobody has ever been handed a clean spectrum slate to develop the perfect 4G system before, and Nokia engineers are probably having a good time with this.
The biggest challenge will be in designing a lightweight cellular base station that contains the core, the baseband, and the radios in a small box. All of the components must be hardened to work in wide-ranging temperatures on the moon, which can range from a high of 260 F in the daytime to minus 280 F in the dark.
Nokia engineers know they have to test, then retest the gear – there will be no easy repairs on the moon. The vision is that future lunar landings will touch down on the surface and then send off both manned and unmanned rovers to explore the moon’s surface. The 4G gear must survive the rigors of an earth launch, a moon landing, and the vibrations and jolts from rovers and still be guaranteed to always work in the desolate lunar environment
I have to admit that my first reaction to the article was, “Shouldn’t we be putting 5G on the moon?”. But then it struck me. There is no 5G anywhere in the world other than the marketing product that cellular carriers call 5G. Since there will be no easy upgrades in space, Nokia engineers are being honest in calling for 4G LTE. Honestly labeling this as 4G will remind future engineers and scientists about the technology being used. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Nokia was as honest about the 5G in our terrestrial cellular networks?