4G on the Moon, as Nasa picks Nokia for lunar network

Finnish telecommunications giant Nokia has been selected by Nasa to deploy a “space-hardened” 4G network on the surface of the Moon, as part of its plans to establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s planetary satellite by 2028.

 Nasa’s ambitious ‘Artemis’ project aims to return humans to the Moon; to set up a long-term human presence there; kick-start a lunar economy (largely based on mining lunar resources), and establish infrastructure to support a crewed mission to Mars. Nasa is working alongside international partners including ESA, JAXA, the UKSA and many private companies.

Nasa has now selected Nokia’s US subsidiary to deploy an “ultra-compact, low-power, space-hardened” 4G network on the Moon to support a small human presence, with a view to later updating to a 5G network. The contract is worth $14.1m (£10.9m).

Nokia will mostly use off-the-shelf technology such as lightweight 4G base stations, adapted to “withstand the harsh conditions of the launch and lunar landing and to operate in the extreme conditions of space”.

According to Nokia, the telecoms equipment will be installed on the surface using a remotely controlled lunar hopper in late 2022. The hopper will be built by Intuitive Machines, a Texas-based autonomous systems company.

“The network will self-configure upon deployment,” said Nokia in a statement, explaining that the technology would be used to provide connectivity for “any activity that astronauts need to carry out”, such as command and control functions (including voice control); remote control of lunar rovers; real-time navigation; HD video streaming, and real-time streaming of biometric data.

“We are now building the first-ever cellular communications network on the Moon,” said Nokia CTO Marcus Weldon. “Reliable, resilient and high-capacity communications networks will be key to supporting [a] sustainable human presence on the lunar surface.”

14 private companies have won contracts worth $370m (£286m) from Nasa to perform various “Tipping Point” technology services as part of the Artemis project, including cryogenic propellant R&D.

Of the companies, SpaceX received $53.2m (£41.2m) for demonstrating the transfer of 10 tonnes of liquid oxygen between tanks on a spacecraft. SpaceX is also competing with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to design the lunar lander for the project.