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Lunar 3GPP Technologies


Scope Title:

Lunar 3GPP Capability Development

Scope Description:

Terrestrially, substantial investments have been made in the Third Generation Partnership Project  (3GPP) standards and technology over the past several decades of 3G/4G/5G development and operation. NASA is seeking to leverage this extensive development for the deployment of cost-effective and highly capable networking systems within the lunar communications architecture. However, operating in the lunar environment can be drastically different than operating terrestrially. This subtopic is being proposed to encourage development that is needed to translate terrestrial 3GPP technologies into a format suitable for the lunar environment, whether in terms of hardware (radiation hardening), software (lunar analysis tools), modeling (lunar regolith propagation and scattering), etc. This technology is urgently needed to close gaps in the lunar communications architecture and support the mission objectives of the Artemis program. 

NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program seeks innovative approaches to leverage terrestrial cellular technologies, standards, and architectures to establish and grow an adaptable and interoperable lunar communications infrastructure capable of supporting a wide range of future lunar mission users through lunar surface assets as well as orbiting relay constellations. The Lunar Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Applications subtopic specifically focuses on 3GPP-compatible hardware that can operate in space and on the lunar surface, channel modeling pertinent to operation of 3GPP networks on the lunar surface, advances in 3GPP waveforms beneficial to deployment of lunar networks, and demonstration of capabilities for Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) applicable to use from lunar orbit to lunar surface.


NASA’s Artemis program is committed to landing and establishing a sustained presence for American astronauts on the Moon in collaboration with our commercial partners. In support of this goal, a flexible, interoperable communications network that can grow as demand and number of lunar mission users establish a presence on the lunar surface is critical. Currently, NASA is already supporting demonstrations of 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) hardware and protocol performance on the lunar surface in 2023. In the 2025 timeframe, the first crewed landing of Artemis III will look to conduct additional demonstrations of 5G communications systems on the lunar surface. In preparation of these and other future activities, the study and development of lunar surface/space-based applications of 3GPP technologies, waveforms, and modeling will lay the foundation for the future lunar surface communications infrastructure. Examples of specific research and/or technology development areas of interest include:

  • Development of 3GPP-compliant hardware for long-term survivability in the lunar environment (surface and orbit), including radiation and thermal characteristics across a lunar day/night cycle.
  • Path-to-standardization development/modification of 3GPP standards/waveforms to address the unique lunar surface environment (e.g., high multipath) and/or space-based environment (e.g., high Doppler, high latency).
  • Interoperability between lunar surface architecture and orbiting relay architecture, including delay tolerant networking (DTN) to bridge the gap between ad hoc surface networks and highly scheduled Earth-relay networks. DTN functionality may be demonstrated as compatibility/operational use with the DTN layer of other services, as opposed to independent implementation of DTN.
  • Development of unique capabilities supporting lunar exploration that can operate within the 3GPP framework (e.g., precision Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services, sidelink capability, etc.).
  • Development of channel models to support analysis of 3GPP performance in lunar environments.
  • Development of coverage planning and capacity analysis tools that take into account the unique properties of the lunar environment (e.g., lunar radius, regolith RF transparency, lunar topography, lunar geology, propagation through dust clouds, accumulation of dust layer on devices, etc.).
  • Sidelink architectures for mission-critical suit-to-suit communication in disconnected environments, including 5G ProSe/V2X and multi-protocol (e.g., 5G + Wi-Fi) solutions.

Proposals to this subtopic should consider application to a lunar communications architecture consisting of surface assets (e.g., astronauts, science stations, robotic rovers, vehicles, and surface relays), lunar communication relay satellites, Gateway, and ground stations on Earth. The lunar communication relay satellites require technology with low size, weight, and power (SWaP) suitable for small satellite (e.g., 50 kg) or CubeSat operations and 3GPP waveforms capable of withstanding relatively high Doppler rates (when considering NTN links). Proposed solutions should highlight advancements to provide the needed communications capability while minimizing use of onboard resources, such as power and propellant. Proposals should consider how the technology can mature into a successful demonstration in the lunar architecture. If a proposal suggests or implies modification of 3GPP standards, the proposer should demonstrate a familiarity/history of participation in the relevant standard-making bodies and successful contributions to those organizations. The intent of this subtopic is to leverage existing terrestrial technologies and standards only the minimum customization necessary for space/lunar usage, while acknowledging that there do exist fundamental differences that need to be addressed (e.g. lunar surface propagation modeling).

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 4 to 6

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 05 Communications, Navigation, and Orbital Debris Tracking and Characterization Systems
  • Level 2 05.3 Internetworking

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Prototype
  • Hardware
  • Analysis
  • Software

Desired Deliverables Description:

Phase I will study technical feasibility, infusion potential for lunar operations, and clear/achievable benefits, and show a path towards a Phase II implementation. Phase I deliverables include a feasibility assessment and concept of operations of the research topic, simulations and/or measurements, validation of the proposed approach to develop a given product (Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 3 to 4), and a plan for further development of the specific capabilities or products to be performed in Phase II. Early development, integration, test, and delivery prototype hardware/software is encouraged.


Phase II will emphasize hardware/software/waveform/model development with delivery of specific product for NASA targeting future demonstration missions. Phase II deliverables include a working prototype (engineering model) of the proposed product/platform or software, along with documentation of development, capabilities, and measurements, and related documents and tools, as necessary, for NASA to modify and use the capability or hardware component(s) and evaluate performance in the lunar architecture for greater infusion potential. Hardware prototypes shall show a path towards flight demonstration, such as a flight qualification approach and preliminary estimates of thermal, vibration, and radiation capabilities of the flight hardware. Software prototypes shall be implemented on platforms that have a clear path to a flight qualifiable platform. Algorithms and channel models must be implemented in software and should be ready to be run on an appropriate general-purpose processor.


Opportunities and plans should be identified for technology commercialization. Software applications and platform/infrastructure deliverables shall be compliant with the latest NASA standards. The deliverable shall be demonstrated in a relevant emulated environment and have a clear path to Phase III flight implementation on a SWaP-constrained platform.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

NASA’s Draft LunaNet Interoperability Specification has baselined 3GPP release 16 or later for short-to-medium range wireless networking with mobility and roaming.

The technology need for the lunar communication architecture includes:

  • SWaP-efficient 3GPP hardware deployable as hosted payloads on lunar missions (habitats, rovers), surface assets (CLPS landers), or orbital assets.
  • Connectivity between surface and orbital assets for trunk links, continuous coverage of the lunar South Pole and far side, as well as potential direct-to-handheld orbital 5G links.
  • Effective characterization of 3GPP network performance in the lunar environment through channel modeling and emulation.
  • Efficient use of lunar communication spectrum while avoiding the generation of interference (e.g. sensitive radio astronomy science concerned with very low out of band emissions).

Critical gaps between the state of the art and the technology need include:

  • Space qualification of terrestrial 3GPP hardware and standards such as radiation hardening and survivability at extreme temperatures (-180 °C to +130 °C on the lunar surface, RF front end only).
  • Implementation of 3GPP-capable systems on SWaP-constrained platforms.
  • Operation of 3GPP networks in GPS denied environments.
  • Direct-to-handheld (DTH) connectivity including tolerance for high Doppler and high latency from lunar orbit.
  • Device-to-device connectivity when one or more devices cannot see a 5G tower.
  • Precision PNT over the surface link to augment availability and precision of overhead navigation assets.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

Leveraging the vast investment in terrestrial 3GPP technologies over the past several decades is a critical opportunity for NASA’s lunar communications architecture to deploy highly capable, reliable technologies at reasonable cost, but the feasibility of operation in the lunar environment must be demonstrated, and due consideration must be given to the unique challenges of operating in the lunar environment. As activity in the lunar vicinity increases through NASA’s Artemis program as well as through international and commercial partnerships, deployment of scalable and efficient networks is essential to mitigate complexity and reduce operational cost.


Several related reference documents include:


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