Here's why a cell tower is landing on the moon

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Aug 16, 2017

Astronauts on the moon may soon find it possible to phone home—or at least mission control.

German startup Part Time Scientists (who have serious cred as former competitors in the Google Lunar X Prize race to the moon) will be flying a lander with an attached rover to the lunar landing site of Apollo 17, NASA’s final moon mission, sometime next year. Except there won’t be any more staticky messages to Houston if there is a problem. Telecommunications are going to be powered by LTE technology through a collaboration with Vodafone that will make lunar base stations happen. Meaning, the same type of tech responsible for your calls and texts on Earth is going to be transmitting messages from the moon.

"What we are aiming to do is to provide commercial service to bring goods to the moon and also to provide services on the surface of the moon," said Part Time Scientists head of embedded electronics and integration Karsten Becker.

With the other Google Lunar X Price competitors unlikely to meet the December deadline rapidly closing in, Becker believes his company, which took itself out of the running for that reason, will now have the time to accomplish something unprecedented by being the first private entity on the moon’s cratered surface.

Part Time Scientists' lunar lander Alina.

SpaceX is also joining forces with the startup in a launch contract that will blast off its Alina spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket as a secondary payload. Alina will shoot 26,000 miles into space on the Falcon 9 to the geostationary transfer orbit, from which it will then fly solo and take off for the moon. Upon its soft landing, the craft will then release two rovers meant to zero in on Apollo 17 and analyze any changes that may have happened in nearly half a century.

Something here is straight out of a sci-fi movie. If the duo of Audi Lunar Quatro rovers that will crawl off into the moon dust look eerily familiar, it’s because you’ve seen them before in Alien: Covenant.

"The two rovers are essentially mobile phones that will communicate our video stream to Alina, which serves as an LTE base station, and Alina will communicate the data to us," explained Becker. "Using the LTE modem to transmit our data is much more energy-efficient than using direct Earth communication.”

Power from a solar panel will fuel each rover, which will use half of those 90 watts of energy for driving. This is hugely efficient compared to previous prototypes that would have had to drain that other half to send communications directly to Earth via modem.

Alina and its rovers are expected to perish in the freezing lunar night, but the first mission’s sacrifice will be invaluable for future missions, starting in 2020, whose purpose will be establishing a permanent lunar telecommunication infrastructure that uses the LTE network for even more missions to our satellite.

Part Time Scientists even has a concept they are collaborating with the ESA on that could make a lunar village a thing. Personally, I’d rather live on the moon than Mars, especially if it has its own cell phone hotspot. 

(via NBC Mach)