Earth’s moon is getting a mobile network for lunar landing

The setting moon is seen in a photograph taken by Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (ESA) from the International Space Station on March 28, 2016 and released by NASA on April 4, 2016. Picture taken March 28, 2016. R

Half a century after the first NASA astronauts touched lunar soil, the moon will be getting a 4G network to support the first privately-funded landing.

British telecom company Vodafone said Tuesday it plans to create the first 4G network on the moon to support a mission by PTScientists—a German-based group whose aim is to “bring down the cost of space exploration and democratize access to the moon”—in 2019, and has appointed Nokia to be its technology partner.

“This is a crucial first step for sustainable exploration of the solar system,” Robert Böhme, CEO and founder of PTScientists, said in a statement. “In order for humanity to leave the cradle of Earth, we need to develop infrastructures beyond our home planet.”

PTScientists is working with Vodafone Germany and German automaker Audi to achieve the first privately-funded lunar landing. “Mission to the Moon,” as it’s known, is set to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket next year. Apollo 11, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spaceflight that put the first two people on the moon, occurred on July 20, 1969.

Vodafone will set up the 4G network, connecting two Audi lunar quattro rovers to a base station in the Autonomous Landing and Navigation Module (ALINA), while Nokia, through Nokia Bell Labs, will create a space-grade Ultra Compact Network that will weigh the same as a bag of sugar, the British telecom company said.

The 4G network will enable the lunar quattro rovers to communicate and transfer scientific data and HD video while carefully approaching and studying NASA’s Apollo 17 lunar rover, a vehicle used by the last astronauts to walk on the moon in 1972.

Vodafone said the base station should be able to broadcast 4G using the 1800 MHz frequency band and send back the first-ever live HD video feed of the moon’s surface, which will be broadcast to a global audience via a deep space link which interconnects with PTScientists’ server in Berlin. Compared to an analog radio, a 4G network is highly efficient and is the first step to building communications infrastructure for future missions, the company said.

“This important mission is supporting, among other things, the development of new space-grade technologies for future data networking, processing and storage, and will help advance the communications infrastructure required for academics, industry and educational institutions in conducting lunar research,” Nokia’s Chief Technology Officer and Bell Labs President Marcus Weldon said in a statement.