LunaNet develops internet for the moon | Panda Anku

NASA is aiming for a manned base on the moon, with internet technology being developed for communication. Paul Budde reports.

THE NASA-SPONSORED Artemis program is the first step into the next era of human exploration. Together with a large number of international governmental, academic and corporate partners – and based on international standards – NASA will establish a sustainable presence on the moon.

The objectives of the program are:

  • demonstrate new technologies, capabilities and business approaches required for future exploration including Mars;
  • study the moon to learn about the origin and history of the earth, the moon and our solar system;
  • Establishing American leadership and a strategic presence on the Moon while expanding US global economic influence;
  • expand our commercial and international partnerships; and
  • Inspire a new generation and advance careers in STEM

Several initiatives are underway by both NASA and its partners. Of particular interest to our readers are the information and communication technology (ICT) based programmes. By the end of the decade, NASA hopes to have established sustained operations on our closest neighbor in space with a view toward a manned lunar base.

In order to realize these plans, ICT-based projects will be fundamental for all activities on the moon. The use of earth-based communications is not feasible for such projects due to the latency problem, so the moon must have its own ICT infrastructure. This requires a wireless communication network with data centers for the development of an internet infrastructure on the moon called LunaNet.

LunaNet relies on standards and conventions to achieve interoperability between service providers and service users. As a result, LunaNet will not be owned by any organization.

It is planned to install the equipment on a lunar module, which will become the base station. The lander will also deploy a rover that can be used as needed, essentially acting as a ‘user device’. The base station will also act as a communications link between the Earth and the Moon.

LunaNet will be the hub for an entire interconnected network of lunar scientific orbiters, lunar exploration orbiters, mobile and fixed lunar surface systems, lunar and terrestrial orbiters providing relay and positioning, navigation and timing services for lunar systems, lunar ascending and descending vehicles and provide associated ground stations and control centers.

In 2020, Nokia Bell Labs was awarded the contract to start development of a 4G-based lunar network, which will consist of an LTE base station with integrated Evolved Packet Core (EPC) functionalities, LTE user equipment, RF antennas and highly reliable operation and maintenance control software. A 5G-based upgrade is already in the pipeline.

The race for global broadband satellite internet is on

Italian space agency ASI approached Thales Alenia Space to explore 16 design concepts to support a human presence on the moon, including a data center.

In a separate development, Lonestar Holdings plans with its partners to ship lightweight data center equipment to the Moon to provide disaster recovery backup services for Earth-based organizations, as well as edge processing for lunar missions. One of its partners, Skycorp, operates the only space-based web server on the International Space Station.

The ICT initiatives under the Artemis program were not the first to address the communications aspects of further exploitation and exploration of the moon and beyond.

In 2018, China started the Queqiao relay. This is a communications relay and radio astronomy satellite for China’s farside mission. It was placed in a halo orbit around the Earth-Moon equilibrium center of gravity and is the first communications relay and radio astronomy satellite at that location. NASA does not have such communication capabilities but, as described above, is considering other and more far-reaching ICT developments.

Paul Budde is a columnist for Independent Australia and Managing Director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and advisory organization. You can follow Paul on Twitter @Paul Budde.

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