Has a nice Blade runner ring to it, right?
Last week, NASA announced the Finnish cell company - that hasn't made waves since their slew of indestructible phones in the 90s & 00s - landed the modest US$14.1 million contract to build the moon's first phone network in late 2022.
"But why?" we hear you murmur...
Let's let chief technology officer Marcus Weldon answer that: "Leveraging our rich and successful history in space technologies, from pioneering satellite communication to discovering the cosmic microwave background radiation produced by the Big Bang, we are now building the first-ever cellular communications network on the Moon,”
Oh okay, he didn't explain it at all...
The cell provider is producing 4G for critical mission data transmission, including:
- Command and control functions
- Lunar Robot remote navigation
- high-definition streaming
- Astronaut communication
- Exchange of astronaut biometric data
Does this also mean astronauts will be faffing around on Instagram instead of working?
Yes. Yes, it does. Although, not straight away, as NASA has prioritised necessary functions first.
But think of it this way; ever been to a foreign country (not lately obviously) and you can't connect to the wifi?
How great is it when you can?
NASA reported that as well as supporting mission-critical tasks, astronauts will be able to communicate with family, friends, and followers back on Earth. Albeit eventually.
Oh hold on, Weldon is back: “Reliable, resilient and high-capacity communications networks will be key to supporting sustainable human presence on the lunar surface,”
Better late than never big fella...
The project is one part of the Artemis Project that aims to put the next man and woman on the moon. A first since the apollo mission of 1978. The Artemis Project will also serve as a future gateway to Mars.
Meaning, our long-term human presence on the moon will need data support.
The 4G equipment needed includes a base station with antennae and software that can endure in the hostile lunar environment. Including ravaging solar radiation from no atmosphere to filter it out.
From what we can assume, the tech would need to be ultra-compact (for launch), low-power and end-to-end LTE. The little fella network has to self-configure on deployment because tech support will be few and far between.
The network should be close enough to Earth that it will connect to our existing internet. But as the progression to Mars moves away from Earth, more systems need to be put in place.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Starlink, has flirted with the idea of a Starlink satellite constellation network on Mars. And it's not so far fetched.
Tech to network the furthest reaches of space has been considered for decades. The obvious hurdle is that space is huge. Enormous actually.
Think of it this way, a message can zoom to the other side of the world in 0.2 seconds. A focussed laser takes over one second to reach the moon.
But a message to Mars?
You are looking at 20 minutes, one-way.
Plus, spacecrafts and planets zip around in this enormity at stupidly space-like speeds which can break the communication link.
Because of the size of space, and out limits of technology, space is divided into sectors. These sectors are split where our tech can allow communications of differing variety.
Example: the moon can receive messages relatively quickly, but Mars - as we mentioned before - is too far beyond what we're able to send.
But the Artemis gateway on the moon is set to smooth the process towards Mars and hopefully build some data checkpoints on the way.
This is a huge effort and will mean that should any of the links in the chain breaks, the whole connection is lost.
It will be interesting to see how the future of lunar internet unfolds. And the thought of astronauts living and tweeting from the moon has us salivating.
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And there's always our trusty official Australian Space Society.