It’s been a while since anyone standing on the Moon needed to communicate with Earth – the last crewed mission took place in 1971.
But recently we’ve had renewed interest in lunar missions, especially since the Moon is viewed by many as a stepping stone on our way to Mars. And one German startup aiming for our rocky satellite has announced they will set up a kind of cell tower once they get there.
PTScientists, one of the companies that originally signed up for the Google Lunar X Prize competition, is planning to deliver two rovers to the Moon, using their ALINA (Autonomous Landing and Navigation) module.
The rovers, developed in partnership with Audi, will have four-wheel electrical drive chains, rechargeable batteries, solar panels, and HD cameras. And they’ll also need a way to transmit their data back to Earth.
To that end, the German-based team is planning to use a simple, already existing solution called LTE technology – the same wireless communications system we use here on Earth for chattering on our mobile phones.
LTE has a big advantage over typical radio transmissions – it requires way less power, which means that the rovers can spend more battery juice on exploring and less on communicating.
“We will be collecting a lot of scientific data on the Moon and the high-speed data connectivity that LTE gives us will enable the rovers to communicate with ALINA to send that valuable data back to Earth,” the team’s electrical engineer Karsten Becker told Abigail Beall at Wired.
The lunar rovers are designed to draw about 90 watts of energy from their solar panels, and they will need half of that for getting around. Radio transmissions would need to use the other half, but LTE is going to conserve a lot of that leftover power.
Right now PTScientists is aiming to be the first private company to set any kind of boot – including robotic – on the Moon. As we reported late last year, they have already signed a contract to hitch a ride on a SpaceX rocket.
But, as Tereza Pultarova reports for Space.com, the team has withdrawn from participating in the Lunar X race, believing that none of the participants are likely to meet the goal to launch by December 2017.
If PTScientists succeed in their mission, they are hoping that the trial of using LTE for lunar mission comms could indeed set course for building a whole telecommunications network up there.
“We are trying to show that you can use the most widespread means of communication .. on the surface of the Moon, to execute missions there,” Becker told Space.com.
“We are aiming to provide cost-effective solutions to problems that are arising in terms of building the lunar village.”
We’ll have to watch this space to see whether the mission goes as planned, with ALINA touching down next year.