Testing 4G and 5G communications for the lunar surface.
Lunar LTE Studies (LunarLiTES) Project
The Lunar LTE Studies, or LunarLiTES, project at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, is evaluating how the 4G and 5G technologies that connect our mobile devices on Earth can translate to the lunar environment, with the goal of providing the next generation of explorers the same communications conveniences that they know down on Earth. The terrestrial technology we carry in our pockets is a clear choice for lunar networking, but performance on the Moon is significantly different than it is on Earth. The LunarLiTES team is focused on adding 4G and 5G LTE capabilities to the Multiple Asset Testbed for Research of Innovative Communication Systems (MATRICS) emulation environment, with the specific goal of characterizing performance of 4G and 5G communications on the lunar surface. MATRICS is an emulation environment at NASA GRC that enables the operation of full communications system hardware in an accurately recreated radio frequency environment.
Supporting Artemis Exploration
Through Artemis, NASA will establish a long-term human presence on the Moon, opening more of the lunar surface to science and exploration than ever before. This rapid growth of lunar activity will require robust communications, navigation, and networking capabilities to handle the unique challenges of living and working on the Moon. Substantial exploration interest surrounds the lunar South Pole, an area of the Moon that we have never visited before, where permanently shadowed craters harbor water ice, a valuable resource for a sustainable human presence. However, these new polar missions will be far more challenging than the past Apollo missions to the Moon’s mid-latitudes. Spacecraft, astronauts, and robotic missions will need continuous, reliable connectivity while working on the lunar surface, especially in the challenging landscape of the South Pole. Communication links will be essential for control of spacecraft, the return of science data, and to help missions navigate and determine their precise position as they explore the unknown terrain.
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate has funded Nokia to demonstrate a 4G LTE network on the lunar surface during a future NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) flight. The LunarLiTES project supports this mission by simulating and emulating communications links on the lunar surface in order to predict performance of the network and ultimately improve the ability to model lunar surface propagation and deploy robust networks to sustain exploration. These communications links will be essential for control of spacecraft, the return of science data, and to determine precise locations as Artemis astronauts explore the unknown terrain.