Nokia shoots for the moon with NASA LTE award

Nokia plans to quite literally shoot for the moon, with its selection by NASA for a $14.1 million award to deploy the first 4G LTE communications system in space.

Nokia submitted a winning proposal to NASA’s “Tipping Point” solicitation for partners to develop technologies with the goal of sustainable human operations on the lunar surface by 2030. It’s part of NASA’s Artemis program, which plans to land two astronauts on the Moon in 2024, including the first woman.

Combined, the awards announced Wednesday total more than $370 million.

Marcus Weldon, CTO of Nokia and president of Nokia Bell Labs, tweeted that the company is going to build mobile ‘moon-comms’:

Bell Labs on Twitter disclosed some additional details about Nokia’s plan for a mission-critical LTE network on the Moon, inspired by terrestrial technology.

It will be working with partners at Houston-based Intuitive Machines, where the network would form “the critical communications fabric for data transmission applications,” according to Bell Labs. NASA awarded Intuitive Machines $41.6 million to develop a small, deployable hopper lander capable of carrying a 2.2-pound payload more than 1.5 miles, to access lunar craters and survey the lunar geography in high-resolution over a short distance.

Nokia’s data transmission communications would help that effort, including control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation of the Moon’s geography and stream high-definition video.  

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Since the network is mission critical, Nokia’s Bell Labs said it has been specifically designed to withstand the unique aspects of space including extreme temperature, radiation and vacuum conditions “as well as the sizable vibrational impact during launch and landing on the lunar surface.”

It also “meets the stringent size, weight and power constraints of space payloads in the smallest possible form factor.”

Nokia’s plans apparently don’t stop at 4G LTE either, as Bell Labs said the deployment will evolve to 5G technologies.

NASA said its Space Technology Mission Directorate will negotiate with companies to award milestone-based firm fixed-priced contracts that can last up to five years. It also noted that each company has to contribute a minimum financial percent, based on its size, of the total project cost.

This is not Nokia’s first foray into lunar LTE. In early 2018, Vodafone Germany picked the vendor as its technology partner to develop a space-grade 4G network as part of work with Berlin-based PTScientists and Audi to achieve the first privately funded Moon landing.

Nokia’s work on that project was meant to create the lightest ever space-grade Ultra Compact Network, weighing around the same as a bag of sugar.

Vodafone at the time said testing suggested the 1800 MHz frequency band could be used for a base station to broadcast 4G to send back live HD video feed of the Moon’s surface.