Nokia Bell Labs is deploying the first cellular network on the Moon to showcase that cellular technologies can provide the critical communications needs for future lunar or Martian missions. For the first time, the company is unveiling the details of its lunar mission, detailing the reasons for a Moon voyage, exploring the possible applications for cellular communications in such lunar and Mars exploration and describing the upcoming mission from launch to conclusion.

Why Nokia Is Going to the Moon

Nokia wants to demonstrate that cellular technologies can provide the reliable, high-capacity and efficient connectivity needed for future crewed and uncrewed missions to the Moon and the solar system’s planets. For any sustained human presence on the Moon and on Mars in the future, connectivity and communications will be critical.

We feel the best way to do this isn’t by inventing an entirely new communications platform for planetary exploration. Rather, we should take advantage of the same technologies that connect billions of phones and devices here on Earth.

The IM-2 Mission: From Launch to Conclusion

The mission, known as IM-2, will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will ferry the Nova-C lander into space on a direct trajectory to the Moon. After a five-day journey, the Nova-C lander will descend to the lunar surface. The targeted landing zone is the Shackleton Connecting Ridge at the Moon’s south pole.

Once on the lunar surface, the Nova-C lander will automatically deploy our 4G/LTE network. Then two vehicles will be deployed, both of which will link directly to the Nokia network.

The first vehicle will be Lunar Outpost’s Mobile Autonomous Prospecting Platform (MAPP) rover. It will then begin a multi-day journey exploring the Shackleton Connecting Ridge. The rover will autonomously map the lunar surface while collecting stereo imagery and thermal data along the way. Most significantly, MAPP will collect samples of lunar regolith in a special bin mounted on the rover’s wheels. Images of this material, the first ever collected from the Moon’s south pole, will be relayed back to NASA for analysis.

The second vehicle will be the Intuitive Machines Micro-Nova hopper. The Micro-Nova will fire hydrazine rockets in controlled bursts to propel itself short distances. Simply put, it will “hop” from place to place, accessing areas other vehicles aren’t able to reach. The main task of the Micro-Nova is to search for lunar ice deep within a lunar crater. And the key component of that ice is, of course, water, the element critical to any future and sustained crewed mission to the Moon.

The trove of data collected by IM-2 will give us a wealth of information about a key area of the Moon, helping pave the way for future crewed Artemis missions. And the discovery of water at the Shackleton Connecting Ridge would set the stage for a permanent habitat location at the Moon’s south pole, as water from the ice could be converted to breathable oxygen and potentially used to create fuel for an eventual journey to Mars.

How the Lunar Mission Relates to Nokia’s Business Model

Through its Tipping Point initiative, NASA is fostering a new era of public-private partnerships and spearheading the development of critical space technologies. The systems and actionable information that emerge from Tipping Point could potentially be used in Artemis missions, establishing sustainable operations on the Moon in preparation for future crewed expeditions on to Mars.

Just as communications and networks are a vital part of the economy here on Earth, they will prove an essential element in any future lunar or Martian economy. Cellular networks would support habitat infrastructure and mission goals by linking sensors and connecting transport vehicles, scientific payloads, exploratory drones and rovers, to name a few.

In line with this, connectivity will also play a crucial role in the lunar or Martian internet ecosystem in the future. One day, astronauts may even be able to take their smartphones to space, using them in a Moon or Mars habitat the same way as on Earth. All told, these imperative needs present many opportunities for Nokia and other Tipping Point companies to develop and benefit from such future economies in space.

We will also gain knowledge we can utilize right here on Earth. The Moon’s surface is one of the most inhospitable environments known to man. If Nokia can build a network that can function on the Moon, we can build a network that can function in the most extreme environments on Earth. With such knowledge in tow, Nokia will be ready, wherever the journey may take us.


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