LunaNet – Internet Development for the Moon

A NASA Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard the Mobile Launchpad is seen at Launch Pad 39B, Tuesday, August 30, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo: NASA/Joel Kosky

The NASA-sponsored Artemis program is the first step in the next era of human exploration. Together with a large number of international partners from governments, academics as well as companies – 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 methods of work needed for future exploration including Mars;
  • Study the Moon to learn more 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 its global economic influence in the United States;
  • Expand our business and international partnerships; And the
  • Inspiring a new generation and encouraging careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields

Several initiatives are underway from both NASA and its partners. One of the most important programs of interest to our readers is information and communication technology based programs. By the end of the decade, NASA hopes to establish sustainable operations on our closest neighbor in space, with a focus on a manned lunar base.

In order to realize these plans, ICT-based projects will be central to all activities on the Moon. Using Earth-based communications will not be feasible for such projects due to the latency problem, so the Moon will need its own ICT infrastructure. This will require a wireless communications network with data centers to develop an Internet infrastructure on the Moon called LunaNet.

LunaNet is based on standards and agreements to achieve interoperability between service providers and service users. As a result, the organization will not own LunaNet on its own.

The plan is to place the equipment on a lunar lander, which will become the base station. The probe will also deploy a rover, which can be used as required and essentially acts as a “user device”. The base station will also act as a link between Earth and the Moon.

LunaNet will be the center of a complete interconnected network of Lunar Scientific Orbiters, Lunar Exploration Vehicles, Mobile and Fixed Systems on the Moon, and Lunar and Terrestrial Orbiters that provide relay service, positioning, navigation and timing for lunar systems, lunar ascent and landing vehicles, and ground stations and associated control centers .

In 2020, Nokia Bell Labs was awarded a contract to begin development of a 4G-based lunar network that will consist of an LTE base station with integrated advanced packet (EPC) functions, LTE user equipment, RF antennas, high-reliability operations and maintenance monitoring software. A 5G-based upgrade is already in the works.

The Italian space agency ASI turned to Thales Alenia Space to study 16 design concepts to support human presence on the Moon, including a data center.

In a separate development, Lonestar Holdings, with its partners, plans to send lightweight data center equipment to the moon, provide disaster recovery backup service for Earth-based organizations, as well as edge processing for lunar-based 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 look into the communications aspects of the use and exploration of the Moon and beyond.

In 2018, China launched the Queqiao relay. This is a communications relay and radio astronomy satellite for the China mission on the far side of the Moon. It was sent into a halo orbit around the Earth-Moon gravitational equilibrium point and is the first communications relay and radio astronomy satellite at this location. NASA does not have this communications capabilities, but as described above, it is looking at various and far-reaching ICT developments.

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