An artist's concept of NASA astronauts returning to the surface of the moon via its Artemis program.
  • A new NASA study explores the possibility of building a Wi-Fi network on the moon.
  • It's part of a bid to tackle unequal access to internet services, NASA's Steve Oleson told Insider.
  • The framework, which is conceptual at this stage, also hopes to inform NASA's Artemis program.
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A new study revealed by NASA considers the possibility of building a lunar Wi-Fi network, the agency reported.

It comes in an effort to address inadequate internet access across parts of the US and help inform future Artemis missions.

Mary Lobo, director of technology incubation and innovation at NASA's Glenn Research Center, said in a press release: "This presented a great opportunity to develop solutions to the challenges we face sending astronauts to the Moon under Artemis while also addressing a growing societal issue in our hometown."

The Artemis program, which was unveiled last year, aims to land people on the moon for the first time since 1972. Its plan is to launch an uncrewed mission around the moon in 2021, followed by a crewed moon flyby in 2023, then a lunar landing in 2024.

The study, which was conducted by NASA's Compass Lab, is important because "crew, rovers, science instruments, and mining equipment, will need reliable communication links to a lunar/Artemis basecamp and ultimately back to Earth," Steve Oleson, Compass Lab lead at NASA Glenn, told Insider.

NASA reported in the press release that digital inequality and a lack of access to adequate internet service is a socioeconomic concern across the US, which has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to a report by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, about 31% of the households in Cleveland have no broadband access.

Following these findings, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, an economic development organisation, approached NASA's Glenn Research Center to analyse the technical barriers of digital inequality and see if there was an opportunity to use the moon to solve Earth's digital divide.

To assess how such a network might look on the moon, the Compass team at NASA's Glenn Research Center evaluated how a terrestrial network could operate in a nearby Cleveland neighbourhood, Oleson told Insider.

Their study compared a lunar surface area and an area around Cleveland to address the technical challenges associated with Wi-Fi connectivity in the local area. While the equipment would be different due to differing Earth and lunar environments, the Wi-Fi frequencies could be the same as they are on Earth, Oleson told Insider.

Engineers found that attaching Wi-Fi routers to approximately 20,000 lampposts or other utility poles in Cleveland could provide internet access to every household in any given neighbourhood, according to Oleson.

By placing routers no more than 100 yards apart, a four-person home could gain around 7.5 megabits per second download speed. "Such service would allow users basic access to the internet to do schoolwork, bank, and shop, and access information on the internet. It would not be sufficient for streaming 4K video or gaming," Oleson added.

Oleson said the results of the study will be supplied to NASA mission planners for future Artemis missions and possible future basecamp designs.

He added: "We are also sharing them with the NASA technologists who need to adapt Wi-Fi equipment to the extremes of the lunar environment including dust and extreme temperatures."

Though it's still conceptual at this stage, the team at NASA hopes the Wi-Fi study can eventually help underserved communities in US cities and provide them with reliable internet access.

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