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NASA Glenn Research Center is using the moon to address Cleveland's digital divide

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Posted at 1:39 PM, Oct 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-08 13:39:34-04

CLEVELAND — For many communities in Cleveland, reliable internet access can be difficult to find. Cleveland’s NASA Glenn Research Center is stepping in to use the moon to solve an earthly problem.

A study by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance found that 31% of households in Cleveland had no broadband access. After the study found a deep digital divide between the city and its suburbs, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, an economic development organization, reached out to NASA Glenn for help in examining the technical barriers of reaching digital equality for all residents.

Since internet access can be as elusive as it is on moon, NASA stepped in to solve both challenges.

“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,” said Mary Lobo, director of Technology Incubation and Innovation at Glenn. “We were pleased to establish a mutually beneficial study partnership with the GCP.”

Inside the Compass Lab at NASA Glenn, which specializes in abstract spacecraft and mission design, researchers applied the lunar network approaches to address technical challenges to Wi-Fi connectivity in Cleveland.

Results from the study found that attaching Wi-Fi routers to approximately 20,000 lampposts or other utility poles would help solve the city’s connectivity issues. Researchers said by spacing the routers no more than 100 yards apart, 7.5 megabits per second download speed would be available for a four-person home.

This would allow residents to do basic and necessary tasks on the internet like school work and banking.

“It would not provide like gaming or streaming, but it's going to provide them with just a basic access to the internet. And a lot of homes in Cleveland do not have that,” said Steve Oleson, Compass team lead at NASA Glenn.

NASA said surface exploration will require high-rate communications between astronauts and various elements like landers, habitats, rovers, and the Gateway.

“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 an existing infrastructure of power, back feeds, and even a lunar internet, all of which need to be supplied,” said Oleson.

While the lunar Wi-Fi framework is still conceptual, researchers hope the study will help inform future Artemis plans.

“A lot of times we do things in space and we like to say, well, how do you do it on earth first? Is there any technologies we can use? And so having an earth equivalent study, a terrestrial study, if you would, was pretty key for this. So having you know, using Cleveland, it kind of is a sample for our lunar base, if you would. Just from how you would do outdoor Wi-Fi was a great starting point.

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