By David Meyer
February 28, 2018

The Moon is hopefully going to get its first mobile network, thanks to European mobile operator Vodafone and equipment firm Nokia.

The companies are working with part-time scientists—that’s actually their name, styled as “PTScientists”—on what they hope will be the first-ever privately funded Moon landing.

The car-maker Audi is another big partner on this mission, which was originally supposed to take place this year, but is now slated for 2019. According to the plan, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will take up two Audi-made lunar rovers and the landing module.

So what’s the mobile network for? The rovers will need to be able to communicate with one another, and the partners claim a 4G mobile network will be a lot more energy-efficient than analog radio.

They said Tuesday that a tiny, specially-developed mobile network installed in the module would make it possible to send home “the first ever live HD video feed of the Moon’s surface”—via a connected deep-space link, of course; 4G mobile technology alone doesn’t allow for transmissions over 239,000 miles, no matter who the operator is.

The rovers will “carefully approach and study NASA’s Apollo 17 lunar roving vehicle that was used by the last astronauts to walk on the Moon” back in 1972, Nokia said in a statement.

While the idea of a 4G network on the Moon may seem somewhat frivolous, it does make sense to test out the viability of well-proven commercial technology in a space setting. And the high-profile corporate partnerships must be very handy for the Berlin-based PTScientists, which once hoped to win Google’s Lunar XPrize (GLXP) challenge.

Google announced last month that the decade-long challenge was ending without a winner for the $30 million prize, as none of the teams were able to get their robots on the Moon by the deadline of March 31 this year.

“While the grand prize will go unclaimed, we don’t think this means there is no winner. Quite the contrary—the GLXP provided inspiration and an incentive for people all around the world to come together and work towards a shared dream of landing on the Moon,” PTScientists wrote at the time. “A look back at our history shows it was the GLXP that led to the formation of PTScientists. In our book, that is a ‘win.'”


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