Science headlines are regularly filled with stories about new discoveries on Mars, observations of Jupiter and Saturn, and even stunning revelations about far-away exoplanets that mankind will probably never have a chance to visit, but Earth’s moon rarely gets the same kind of attention. It’s right there, hovering in the night sky, but there’s still lots we don’t know about it. Interest in what secrets our little natural satellite still holds has been mounting in recent years, and new Moon missions are already in the works, but one particularly interesting new initiative could actually result in the Moon’s very own small-scale 4G wireless network, and it makes a lot more sense than you’re probably imagining.
Thanks to a partnership between European telecom Vodafone, Nokia, and Audi, a proposed upcoming lunar mission will feature a pair of rovers (designed by Audi) which will rely on a 4G mobile network to communicate with each other. The system will also allow for HD video streaming from the Moon’s surface thanks to a link feeding the data back down to Earth. No, it won’t allow future astronauts to update their Snapchat stories, but it’ll still be a first-of-its-kind test of the feasibility of terrestrial mobile networks installed somewhere other than Earth.
“Vodafone’s network expertise will be used to set up the Moon’s first 4G network, connecting two Audi lunar quattro rovers to a base station in the Autonomous Landing and Navigation Module (ALINA),” Nokia explains in a statement. “Nokia, through Nokia Bell Labs, will create a space-grade Ultra Compact Network that will be the lightest ever developed – weighing less than one kilo, the same as a bag of sugar.”
That pint-sized network will wirelessly link the rovers to the central base station and facilitate the streaming of live video which will be piped down to our planet. The connection between the network and Earth obviously won’t be of the 4G variety, but rather a space link designed for long-distance data transfer.
So, is it all just a big publicity stunt? Well, the answer is a bit complicated. The companies involved are obviously happy to tout their involvement, but using 4G on the Moon does actually make logical sense. Sending antiquated analog radio signals sucks up a good deal more energy than 4G does, so the entire system should be significantly more efficient than the alternative. That is, as long as it all works as intended, which is obviously something we’ll have to wait and see for ourselves.