The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter has captured an image of a massive solar eruption that belched hot plasma 2.2 million miles into space. Fortunately, the eruption, which took place February 15, is heading away from the Earth, reports BGR.
When so-called coronal mass ejections face the Earth, which is 92 million miles away, they can overwhelm the protection provided by the Earth’s magnetic field and wreak havoc on telecommunications systems and power grids.
The Moon has no magnetic field, and giant solar eruptions could do even more damage to infrastructure on the lunar surface.
Building a wireless communications infrastructure on the Moon will face challenges not found on Earth, but the end result could be superior communications.
In addition to power and shelter, a lunar base station will need a way to communicate with Earth, with astronauts outside the habitat, and with lunar rovers. Anticipating that need, NASA has awarded Nokia Bell Labs and 13 other companies, including SpaceX and Lockheed-Martin, five-year contracts totaling more than $370 million to demonstrate key infrastructure technologies on the lunar surface, reports IEEE Spectrum.
The antennas and base stations will need to be ruggedized for the harsh, radiation-intensive environment, plus a lunar day-light cycle in which temperatures swing more than 250ºC between light and shadow. Because every piece of hardware in the network must be transported from Earth, equipment needs to be hardened for stresses such as vibration, shock and acceleration from launch and landing.
Designers also want to avoid polluting the lunar surface with radio signals that might interfere with radio astronomy. Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) “can be mitigated at the source with appropriate shielding and precision in the emission of signals,” writes Emma Alexander, a physicist writing for The Conversation. “Astronomers are constantly developing strategies to cut RFI from their data. But this increasingly relies on the goodwill of private companies.”
The good news is that the lack of an atmosphere and absence of terrestrial obstructions such as trees and buildings likely will mean better signal propagation.
NASA has issued a Request for Information to help it flresh out plans for LunaNet, a communications and navigation architecture for the Moon.
While communications at present are limited to portions of the Moon facing the Earth, LunaNet would allow robotic landers, rovers, scientific devices and astronauts to transit data to Earth through Moon-orbiting satellites or space stations from the far side or poles of the Moon.
According to GCN, LunaNet is expected to include three categories of services:
Networking services capable of moving data between nodes that adhere to confidentiality, integrity and availability requirements.
Position, navigation and timing services for orientation and velocity determination, as well as time synchronization and dissemination. These services could be used for search and rescue, surface navigation and location tracking
Science services providing situational alerts and scientific measurements that could support predictions of major solar eruptions that affect space weather.