Think getting good cellular service on Earth is difficult? Try doing it on the moon or Mars.
A team of Simon Fraser University researchers is working hard to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the moon a reality by 2022.
A group of nations is presently working on humans’ return to the surface of the Moon by 2024, under the umbrella of the Artemis Program.
In October, NASA selected Nokia Bell Labs to build an LTE cellular test network on the moon, with the goal of validating the technology for building a communications infrastructure to support Artemis and to prepare for future human missions to Mars.
But before that can happen, the network technology required for the network has to be must be proven to work effectively between various space agencies.
NASA and the Canadian Space Agency have entrusted that critical testing to scientists at SFU’s renowned PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking, led by Stephen Braham.
Together with partners Kevin Gifford and Siddhartha Subray at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), SFU operates the Canadian component of the Exploration Wireless Communications (ExWC) testbed out of Vancouver’s Harbour Centre. This site tests interoperability standards to ensure future cellular and Wi-Fi networks in space can connect to any device.
“It sounds like far-out stuff, building networks on the moon, Mars and even further out in our solar system,” says Braham. “But we’re actually testing Nokia’s technology right now here at Harbour Centre.
“ExWC is what will allow us to build the ladder of technology standards needed to get cellular networks off Earth and into the solar system. Before space agencies can adopt these technologies, we need to prove we can operate between multiple vendors and different agencies, which is why NASA and CSA supports the ExWC testbed.”
The ExWC testbed was specifically created in 2018 to help NASA and CSA hone high-speed wireless communications in space, especially around 5G-forward LTE solutions and advanced Wi-Fi. Both SFU and CU have their own radio networks that communicate with control networks, called cores. SFU radios, in the lab and on masts and mountains in B.C. and the Yukon, talk both to the SFU-based core and the CU Boulder core, which talk back to SFU.