Space news: NASA lunar 4G network on the MOON ‘could ruin astronomy’

NASA in October awarded Nokia of America £10.7 million ($14.1 million) to build a 4G telecom network on the Moon by 2030. The intention of constructing such an ambitious 4G network was to provide pioneering infrastructure for long-term lunar habitability.

This is due to the key role communications would play in controlling lunar rovers and navigating next-generation space missions such as NASA’s Artemis program.

Radio frequency interference (RFI) is the long-term nemesis of radio astronomers

University of Manchester’s Emma Alexander

The space agency’s head Jim Bridenstine said at the time: “NASA’s significant investment in innovative technology demonstrations, led by small and large US businesses across nine states, will expand what is possible in space and on the lunar surface.

“Together, NASA and industry are building up an array of mission-ready capabilities to support a sustainable presence on the Moon and future human missions to Mars.”

The goal was to get communication and navigational network for any future lunar outposts ready before any significant manned lunar base.

However, astronomers now suspect the network’s signals can adversely affect the study of radio signals elsewhere in the cosmos.

And these will likely only compound the problems already being experienced as a result of the SpaceX Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Astrophysics doctoral student at the University of Manchester Emma Alexander revealed how radio telescopes already struggle to deal with cell phone interference.

She wrote in The Conversation: “Radio frequency interference (RFI) is the long-term nemesis of radio astronomers.”

And another major source of RFI emanating from the Moon would make it even more difficult to filter out the interference and focus on the extremely faint signals searched for by astronomers.

The Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society said: “RFI can be mitigated at the source with appropriate shielding and precision in the emission of signals.

“Astronomers are constantly developing strategies to cut RFI from their data.

“But this increasingly relies on the goodwill of private companies to ensure that at least some radio frequencies are protected for astronomy.”

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However, the astronomer proposed a solution potentially influenced by SpaceX head Elon Musk.

In April this year, the controversial billionaire suggested constructing orbital observatories as a work-around for those complaining about his Starlink satellites.

Ms Alexander believes such radio observatories could help avoid this increasingly contentious issue if a telescope could be positioned on the far side of the Moon, where all Earthly chatter would be instantly muted.

She added: “A long-term dream of many radio astronomers would be to have a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon.

“In addition to being shielded from Earth-based signals, it would also be able to observe at the lowest radio frequencies, which on Earth are particularly affected by a part of the atmosphere called the ionosphere.

“Observing at low radio frequencies can help answer fundamental questions about the universe such as what it was like in the first few moments after the Big Bang.”

And the case for such an audacious plan has already been recognised with the Netherlands-China Low Frequency Explorer.

This would be a telescope repurposed from the Queqiao relay satellite sent to the Moon in the Chinese Chang’e 4 mission.

NASA has also funded a project on the feasibility of transforming a lunar crater into a radio telescope using only a wire mesh lining.

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