While access to reliable and fast internet still remains a challenge here on Earth, NASA is taking a stride towards solving this challenge, both on our home planet and the Moon.

Digital inequality or inadequate internet access is a concern across the US and many other countries further worsened due to the pandemic. In Cleveland, home of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, a study by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance found that about 31% of the city’s households have no broadband access. 

Following the study, the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), an economic development organization, reached out to NASA Glenn to examine the technical barriers of digital inequality by using the Moon to solve their earthly problem.

NASA’s Compass Lab at Glenn, which specializes in abstract spacecraft and mission design, applied lunar network approaches to address technical challenges to Wi-Fi connectivity in the local community. Comparing a lunar surface area and an area around Cleveland produced interesting results.

The study found that attaching Wi-Fi routers to approximately 20,000 lampposts or other utility poles would help solve Cleveland’s connectivity issues. By spacing routers no more than 100 yards apart, this approach would provide around 7.5 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed in a four-person home.

That connectivity is good enough for basic internet and virtual calls or other simple internet-based activities, but it isn’t high enough to allow for 4K streaming. If routers are moved closer 50-75 yards apart, that greatly improves bandwidth, explain researchers.

Each router would provide connections to outdoor and indoor users within a 50-yard radius from its host pole. Though Wi-Fi repeaters would most likely be required to help older, low-performing devices connect indoors.

The lunar portion of the study assumed a basecamp at Malapert Massif, a large impact crater near the Moon’s South Pole. This area meets NASA’s requirements for Sun exposure and line-of-sight communications with the Deep Space Network, and it is a prime spot for in-situ resource utilization.  

Surface exploration will require high-rate communications between astronauts and various elements like the Gateway, landers, habitats, rovers, and more. While the Moon doesn’t have the level of interference found in a neighborhood full of houses and trees, it also does not have the advantage of the existing infrastructure of power, back feeds, and even a lunar internet, all of which need to be supplied.

Using the same pole-based approach, the team recommends mounting routers on multiple 24-foot poles attached to habitats, landers, or other large hardware. In contrast to a single, large tower, this approach would provide astronauts in habitats network stability while mobile explorers could roam between routers.

NASA’s lunar Wi-Fi framework is still very conceptual, but the team hopes the Wi-Fi study will help inform future Artemis plans. In the meantime, the analysis might help American cities bring communities vital internet access.

Also read: ISRO gets ‘heaviest’ Semi-Cryogenic propellant tank from HAL

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