In a bygone era, "4G on the moon" might have referenced the G-force astronauts aboard an imaginary ship of the future might experience. But 4G today is in reference to a communications network, like those that connect our cell phones and other devices. And this 4G network is going to be located on the lunar surface.
No. This doesn't mean we'll soon see cell towers on the moon. Instead this 4G is part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which awarded several companies contracts worth $370 million to help the space agency install new technology on the moon. Nokia Bell Laboratories got $14.1 million of that for the first 4G communications system in space.
The main purpose of the 4G network will be to support future astronauts in NASA's Project Artemis, which is scheduled to land astronauts near the lunar south pole as early as October 2024. The 4G network will likely provide improved communications between future moon-based astronauts and those orbiting the moon with all of us on Earth. Astronauts will also be able to transmit science data more rapidly than would be possible without the network.
The network also will make other critical communications capabilities a bit easier, including remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and streaming of high definition video. But the astronauts will also be able to phone home, and upload selfies and videos to Instagram, too.
So why 4G and not 5G? According to Nokia, 4G is better suited for the surface of the moon because it's more reliable, but it will eventually be upgraded.
"Reliable, resilient and high-capacity communications networks will be key to supporting sustainable human presence on the lunar surface," Marcus Weldon, chief technology officer and president at Nokia Bell Labs, said in a press statement. "By building the first high performance wireless network solution on the moon, Nokia Bell Labs is once again planting the flag for pioneering innovation beyond the conventional limits."