BBC 2024-03-11 10:01:50


Oscars 2024 live updates: Oppenheimer and Poor Things lead awards

Irish Culture and Arts Minister Catherine Martin has congratulated Cillian Murphy on becoming the first Irish-born star to win an Oscar for best actor.

The 47-year-old, who was born in Douglas in Cork, was awarded for playing theoretical physicist J Robert Oppenheimer in the biopic about the father of the atomic bomb.

In his acceptance speech, Cillian Murphy spoke of being “a very proud Irishman”.

Catherine Martin says: “This award for his title role in Oppenheimer is the pinnacle of any actor’s career and a fitting recognition of the immense talent of Cillian Murphy.”

A post from the President of Ireland’s account on X also celebrates the actor: “Congratulations to Cillian Murphy on his wonderful achievement in winning the Best Actor Oscar, which he so appropriately dedicated to the peacemakers everywhere.”

Cillian Murphy wins best actor as Oppenheimer sweeps Oscars 2024

Cillian Murphy has become the first Irish-born winner of the best actor award, as Oppenheimer swept the Oscars.

The film dominated proceedings, winning best picture, best director for Christopher Nolan, and best supporting actor for Robert Downey Jr.

Murphy was named best leading actor for his acclaimed portrayal of theoretical physicist J Robert Oppenheimer.

The actor said he was “overwhelmed” to have won, adding: “I’m a very proud Irishman standing here tonight.”

He thanked Nolan and producer Emma Thomas for “the wildest, most exhilarating, most creatively satisfying journey you’ve taken me on”.

Murphy also paid tribute to “every single crew and cast member, you carried me through”.

He concluded: “We made a film about the man who created the atomic bomb, and for better or for worse, we are all living in Oppenheimer’s world, so I’d like to dedicate this to the peacemakers everywhere.”

The ceremony saw Oppenheimer win seven prizes overall, while Poor Things took four – including best actress for Emma Stone – and The Zone of Interest scored two.

Downey Jr won best supporting actor for his portrayal of US government official Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer.

Accepting the award, the actor joked: “I’d like to thank my terrible childhood, and the Academy, in that order.

“I needed this job more than it needed me,” he continued. “I stand here before you a better man because of it.”

The star also paid tribute to his wife Susan Downey, who he said had found him as a “a snarling rescue pet”, adding that she “loved me back to life, that’s why I’m here”.

Downey Jr, best known for his run as Marvel’s Iron Man, has enjoyed a hugely successful Hollywood comeback after serious drug addiction issues more than two decades ago, which saw him serve a prison sentence after missing court-ordered drug tests.

He concluded his speech by telling the audience: “What we do is meaningful and what we decide to make is important.”

More on the Oscars

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  • Cillian Murphy a Hollywood heavyweight after Oscar win
  • How to watch this year’s Oscar-winning films
  • Top director makes Gaza statement in speech
  • Hayao Miyazaki wins second Oscar after two decades
  • The full list of winners

Host Jimmy Kimmel joked the cast and crew were “getting Oppen-hammered at the bar”, such was the film’s success.

As he accepted his first ever best director Oscar, Nolan said: “Thank you to those who have been there for me, believed in me for my whole career.”

Addressing the Academy, he said: “Movies are just a little bit over 100 years old, we don’t know where this incredible journey is going from here, but to know that you think I’m a meaningful part of it means the world to me.”

A somewhat disorientated-looking Al Pacino appeared to forget to introduce the 10 nominees for best picture, before going straight to announcing Oppenheimer as the winner of the night’s top prize.

Accepting the prize, producer Emma Thomas said: “I think any of us who make movies dream of this moment. But it seemed so unlikely that it would ever actually happen.”

Oppenheimer also won best editing, original score and cinematography. However, it lost several other technical categories, denying it a record-breaking number of wins.

Instead, the unusual steampunk drama Poor Things won best production design, costume design, make-up and hairstyling, as well as best actress for Emma Stone.

The Yorgos Lanthimos film follows an infant whose brain has been implanted into the body of an adult woman, who then goes on an adventure of discovery across the world.

“This is really overwhelming,” Stone said in her speech. “I am so deeply honoured to share this with every cast member, crew member, every person who poured their love, care and brilliance into the making of this film.”

Best actress was the only major category that awards watchers had struggled to call – it had been seen as a dead heat between Stone and Lily Gladstone for Killers of the Flower Moon.

But Martin Scorsese’s drama about a string of Osage murders in the 1920s went home empty handed despite being nominated in 10 categories at the ceremony.

Barbie, the highest-grossing film of 2023, won only one of the eight prizes it was nominated for – best original song for What Was I Made For? by Billie Eilish.

“Thank you so much to the Academy, I was not expecting this, I feel so incredibly lucky and honoured,” Eilish said as she accepted the award with her brother and collaborator Finneas O’Connell.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph won best supporting actress for her portrayal of a school chef who is trying to cope with the death of her son in The Holdovers.

In her acceptance speech, Randolph told the audience: “For so long I have always wanted to be different. And I now I realise I just needed to be myself, and I thank you for seeing me.”

The Zone of Interest won best sound and became the first British film ever to win best international feature. The critically acclaimed Holocaust drama follows a German family who live next to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

In his acceptance speech, director Jonathan Glazer criticised Israel and the ongoing war in Gaza.

Best documentary feature went to 20 Days In Mariupol. Its director Mstyslav Chernov told the audience that he was “honoured” to become the first Ukrainian Oscar winner.

“I’m probably the first director on this stage to say I wish I would never have made this film,” he said, adding: “I wish to be able to exchange this [for] Russia never attacking Ukraine, never occupying our cities.”

Elsewhere, Anatomy of a Fall won best original screenplay. The film’s director and co-writer Justine Triet joked the Oscar would “help me through my mid-life crisis”.

The film follows a woman accused of killing her husband, with the only nearby witness her visually impaired son.

American Fiction was named best adapted screenplay. Its writer Cord Jefferson said: “I’ve been talking a lot about how many people passed on this movie when discussing it, and I’m worried that sounds vindictive, but it’s more a plea to recognise there are many people out there who want the opportunity I was given.”

The writer said he understood Hollywood “is a risk-averse industry”, but said studios should commission more smaller-scale movies. “Instead of making one $200m movie, try making 20 $10m movies,” he said.

Japanese fantasy film The Boy and the Heron was named best animated feature film, holding off competition from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

And director Wes Anderson won his first Academy Award in the live action short category for The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar, based on the story by Roald Dahl.

Kimmel hits back at Trump

For the fourth time, the ceremony was hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. The US chat show host opened with a monologue which reflected on the past 12 months in the film industry.

Recalling the strikes that brought Hollywood to a standstill, Kimmel paid tribute to the efforts made to get a fair deal for actors and writers.

He joked that actors could now stop worrying about “being replaced by AI, and could go back to worrying about being replaced by younger, more attractive people”.

Turning his attention to Barbie stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, he said: “If neither of you wins an Oscar tonight, I would like to say you won something much better, the genetic lottery.”

Kimmel also suggested the nominated movies “were too long this year”, adding: “When I went to see Killers of the Flower Moon, I had my mail forwarded to the theatre.

“Killers of the Flower Moon is so long,” he continued, “in the time it took you to watch it, you could drive to Oklahoma and solve the murders yourself.”

Towards the end of the ceremony, Kimmel read out an online post from former US President Donald Trump, who had complained about Kimmel’s performance.

Responding to Trump live on air, Kimmel said: “Thank you President Trump, thank you for watching, I’m surprised you’re still up, isn’t it past your jail time?”

Palace faces questions over Kate image

Four international photo agencies have retracted a picture of the Princess of Wales and her children over concerns it has been “manipulated”.

The image, taken by Prince William for Mother’s Day, was the first of Catherine to be released by Kensington Palace since her surgery in January.

But Getty Images, AFP, Reuters and Associated Press have pulled the photo – noting an “inconsistency in alignment of Princess Charlotte’s left hand”.

Kensington Palace declined to comment.

The photo shows the princess sitting down, surrounded by Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis and Prince George, the latter wrapping his arms around her.

It was the first official photo of the Princess of Wales since her abdominal surgery two months ago. Since then she has stayed out of the public eye.

  • Daniela Relph: Kate picture heats up rumours instead of quelling public curiosity

The image was posted on the Prince and Princess of Wales’s social media accounts with a message from Catherine which said: “Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months.

“Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.”

It has become a regular routine for the royal couple to release their own photos of special family occasions. More often than not, the photos are taken by Catherine and are issued to the media with instructions on how they can be used.

But, before Prince William’s image of his family was posted online, it would have gone through the social media team at Kensington Palace who manage the online accounts of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

It may well have been that some editing was done on the original photo which has now resulted in the discrepancies in its appearance.

The implication here is not that the entire photo is a fake or that the Princess of Wales is more unwell than she appears in the image. That seems unlikely and would be a very high-risk strategy from the Kensington Palace team.

The Mother’s Day image was included on the front pages of several national newspapers and websites, including BBC News, and used on TV news bulletins – again including the BBC.

In order to use the new photo as quickly as possible, the BBC took the one used by Kensington Palace on their social media accounts.

But, late on Sunday, the Associated Press, one of many international agencies that distributed the photo, issued a “kill notification” – an industry term used to make a retraction.

It said: “At closer inspection it appears that the source has manipulated the image. No replacement photo will be sent.”

A second news agency, Reuters, said it too had withdrawn the image “following a post-publication review”. This was followed by a third agency, AFP, which also issued a “mandatory kill notice”.

Getty Images became the fourth organisation to retract the photograph.

PA Media, the UK’s biggest news agency – through which the Royal Family regularly releases its official information, including to the BBC – said it had not killed the picture on its service.

But, a spokesman said the agency was seeking urgent clarification from Kensington Palace over the concerns raised about manipulation.

Most news organisations follow their own strict guidelines on the use of manipulated photographs, only using them when accompanied by an explanation that the image has been changed from the original.

News agencies, such as AP, therefore make a commitment to their clients that their photos are accurate and not digitally manipulated.

AP’s rules only allow “minor adjustments” in certain circumstances, including cropping and toning and colour adjustments, as well as the removal of dust on camera sensors. It says changes in density, contrast, colour and saturation levels “that substantially alter the original scene” are not acceptable.

Social media platform X has posted its own disclaimer on the Prince and Princess of Wales’s official account, saying the image is “believed to be digitally altered”.

At this stage, the more likely explanation is that some overzealous editing of the picture to get it ready for publication has actually cast doubt on its authenticity.

The photo, designed to cool the conversation around the Princess of Wales’s recovery, has instead heated all the rumours up again.

Royal photographer Ian Lloyd told BBC Breakfast that editing of photos was “not unusual”, saying: “It has gone on in photography, and royal photography particularly, since the dawn of photography.”

He pointed to the Prince and Princess of Wales’ Christmas card photo, released in December 2023, where Prince Louis “apparently had a finger missing” and there was “an extra leg”.

But he said the withdrawing of a photo “was definitely new”, saying: “Clearly somebody feels they have gone a step too far and they’ve withdrawn the photograph.”

  • Catherine, Princess of Wales, in hospital after abdominal surgery
  • Kate, the King and three other big challenges for the royals
  • Prince William to return to work after Kate’s surgery

Catherine, 42, spent 13 nights at the London Clinic, near Regent’s Park in central London, following the surgery.

Prince William visited his wife during her stay and she was visited by the King before he had his own treatment there.

The Palace has shared few details about her condition, which has garnered significant social media speculation, but has said it is not cancer-related.

The team supporting the princess as she recovers is small and limited to those closest to her.

At the time of her stay, the Palace said the princess wanted her personal medical information to remain private, adding that she wanted to “maintain as much normality for her children as possible”.

The Palace said it would only provide updates on her recovery when there was significant new information to share.

It was thought on Sunday morning the photo would quell some of the more extreme theories around the princess’s absence from the public stage. But within hours social media was abuzz with zoomed-in images of Princess Charlotte’s left cuff and Prince Louis’ fingers.

The hype is real – five Liverpool v Man City talking points

It was hyped as the game of the Premier League season so far and it didn’t disappoint.

Liverpool and Manchester City couldn’t be separated during Sunday’s absorbing, topsy-turvy 1-1 draw – and barely anything now separates the top three with 10 games left.

Leaders Arsenal are only above Liverpool on goal difference, while champions Manchester City are just one point behind them in third.

“What a game,” said former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports. “It was fantastic from both teams. They should be proud of themselves.

“What these two teams and managers have given us over the past six-to-seven years has been outstanding. It looks like the title race will go down to the wire.”

From Kevin de Bruyne’s substitution surprise to Liverpool’s late penalty pain, here are five of the major talking points to come from another Anfield cracker:

  • How Nunez & Van Dijk make difference to Liverpool’s title bid
  • Who will win the Premier League with 10 games left?

1. Klopp & Guardiola’s fitting farewell?

The Premier League’s recent history has been defined by the managerial rivalry between Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. If this was its final chapter, then Liverpool and Manchester City closed the book in fitting fashion with an Anfield classic.

They could yet have one more meeting in the FA Cup this season – but it felt like the end of something special as Klopp and Guardiola shared a long embrace at the final whistle. In a breathtaking 1-1 draw, both teams contributed to a thriller in the style that has been the trademark of their managers.

In the first half, Manchester City were the composed and measured pass masters, dousing a red-hot Anfield atmosphere with cool periods of possession. It was a silky smooth performance that had Guardiola’s philosophy stamped all over it.

And then, once Alexis Mac Allister equalised from the spot early in the second half, City were subjected to the sort of assault Klopp’s Liverpool have inflicted on them here before.

No-one has been able to make Guardiola’s City rattle like Liverpool under Klopp.

Klopp and Guardiola have pushed each other to great heights, with Guardiola the winner when measured in trophies. How many more pieces of silverware would Klopp have claimed without the presence of Guardiola’s City?

“Jurgen will be back,” said Guardiola after the match. “He loves the job too much. What can I say? He made us a better team. He made me a better manager.

“I wish he will be back soon because football needs personalities like him.”

In the meantime, and until Klopp and Guardiola meet again, we have the memory of yet another superb game. That show of respect for each other at the final whistle said it all.

2. ‘What did he have for lunch?’ – Liverpool’s VAR fury

Manchester City have left Anfield on many occasions believing they have been on the wrong end of crucial decisions. On this occasion, it was Liverpool who felt they had been robbed.

In what would have provided a contentious, dramatic finale to this high-quality encounter, Jeremy Doku’s high challenge on Mac Allister in the area was at best high risk and at worst reckless.

Anfield held its breath as the video assistant referee studied the incident. But referee Michael Oliver gave nothing, and seconds later, blew the final whistle.

It was hard to see how a penalty was not given but, this time, there were no complaints from City. Only relief. It would have been a match-shaping, potentially match-winning, moment.

Liverpool manager Klopp was a mixture of anger and disbelief and, like Guardiola after previous encounters at Anfield, it was easy to see why.

He said: “It was 100% a penalty. They will find an explanation. It was 100% a foul in all areas of the pitch and probably a yellow card.

“All the people with iPads around me were ‘wow, clear’. Maybe they can hide behind the phrase it is not clear and obvious.

“Why did the guy in the VAR room think it was not clear and obvious? What did he have for lunch?”

Manchester City, in contrast, may just feel they were due one at Anfield. They certainly got one.

3. De Bruyne dismayed – but Guardiola says ‘we’re fine’

Games between Liverpool and Manchester City are built for world-class players. Those players want to be centre stage. Perhaps, then, it is understandable that Kevin de Bruyne delivered a very visible show of dissent as he made his way towards the bench on being replaced by Mateo Kovacic in the 69th minute.

The great Belgian had already made his mark with the cute corner that unlocked Liverpool for John Stones’ opener and was still gliding around with menace when his number came up.

To say he was unhappy was an understatement, his feelings relayed via expressions and gestures, arms outstretched, words with the bench, before a conversation with Guardiola…

And De Bruyne continued to look disgruntled when he eventually took a seat on the sidelines…

But Guardiola has seen it all before and swiftly moved on, saying: “That’s good. He will have a chance to prove it next game.

“We needed a player who keeps the ball. It’s not about pressing. Mateo Kovacic is really good at that.

“We were happy with Kevin. It’s not a problem. We’re fine.”

Players of De Bruyne’s stature treat elite games as their natural habitat – and he had already made a significant contribution by setting up City’s goal. He has now been involved in 13 goals in 12 appearances for City in 2024 – two goals and 11 assists – the most of any Premier League player across all competitions this year.

De Bruyne missed four months of the season with a hamstring injury, so maybe there was a desire to protect the 32-year-old, but this will blow over and he will be making a huge contribution before the season ends.

4. Diaz produces ‘special’ display – but Liverpool need Salah

Mohamed Salah’s introduction on the hour was greeted with predictable rapture and within seconds he showed what Liverpool have been missing during his absence with a hamstring injury, as well as the world-class quality he will offer in this season’s climax.

The Egyptian produced a long pass of dream-like quality with his first touch, low and drilled with remarkable precision, into the path of Luis Diaz, who was clean through on goal.

The Colombian had time and space to steady himself, with only Stefan Ortega to beat, before leaving Anfield aghast by sending his finish wide. Diaz could not believe it and neither could anyone else inside the stadium.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, former Scotland winger Pat Nevin described Diaz’s performance as “really, really special”, while ex-England striker Daniel Sturridge said he “did everything besides score”.

But therein lies Liverpool’s issue – he didn’t score and for all the quality elsewhere, Salah remains their biggest threat and most reliable marksman.

Diaz is bursting with pace and menace and will get his share of goals, but he is not in Salah’s league when it comes to the cold, ruthless business of goalscoring. Diaz was a handful every minute – until it came to the business part of putting the ball in the net.

If Liverpool are to claim silverware this season, Salah’s brilliance in front of goal will be central to that pursuit.

5. Liverpool & Man City live up to the hype

The anticipation around meetings between Liverpool and Manchester City is greater than for any other Premier League game and rarely do they disappoint.

Manchester City have found Liverpool their most formidable foe in the Guardiola era, their title battles a constant narrative, often stretching to the final day of the season.

The head-to-head meetings, showcasing their the different styles, have made for a heady football cocktail and Anfield was the scene of another cracker to add to a lengthy list.

Once the sound and fury had died down after referee Oliver’s final whistle, a long spell of applause broke out around the stadium from supporters able to appreciate the quality of what they had witnessed.

As Nevin aptly put it at full-time: “Everyone around this ground just stood up and applauded. It was a kind of ‘well, thank you’.”

It was a tribute to both managers and both teams.

BBC Sport readers were equally engrossed in the action, with this a selection of the best social media messages posted in our live text page:

Neal: What a delightful watch! Two great teams who have won everything in the past seven years going head to head. Mikel Arteta deserves huge credit for bringing a young Arsenal side into the title mix with these two incredible sides.

David: Premier League football at its best. As a Sheffield United fan, I haven’t said that much this season.

John: Two wonderful football teams with two top, top coaches, competing at the top of a brilliant league. What a time to be alive. Happy Sunday guys!

Saqub_sheikh: What a spectacle! Liverpool and Man City produced a compelling and superb match. Two champion teams showed why they have been so good for many years. As a neutral, it highlights why the Premier League is simply the best.

Steve K: Can we have extra time please?

Where next?

  • Who will win the Premier League with 10 games left?
  • Fight for survival – who will go down?

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How to bring wi-fi to the Moon

The Apollo astronauts’ links to Earth were primitive compared to those we enjoy today. The next generation of moonwalkers may have a far more high-resolution way of keeping in touch – both with each other, and with us back on Earth.
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On 20 July 1969 an estimated 600 million people watched a live broadcast that was both out of focus and of extremely poor quality.

The historic nature of the first human walking on the Moon – part of Nasa’s Apollo 11 mission – naturally overshadowed the technicalities. But today’s global audiences take high-definition live streaming for granted and, for the next generation of lunar astronauts, expectations will be much higher.

“No one is going to accept the Apollo video quality,” says Matt Cosby, chief technology officer at the UK’s Goonhilly Earth Station, which communicates with satellites and spacecraft.

Goonhilly broadcast the Moon landing’s television signal around the world and recently received the first signal from Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus craft, confirming the US’s first soft-landing on lunar soil in more than 50 years.

“We will expect 4K resolution from the Moon almost in real time coming from the landing. It’s going to be up to 500 megabits of data coming back so the images are going to be 10 times better,” says Cosby.

“In this day and age, and with social media, grainy black and white photos and videos from the Moon’s surface will be unacceptable and we need to get the higher frequencies to be able to do that. It’s not a huge leap but it needs to be made. It’s all about investment.”

The Lunar Outpost Mobile Autonomous Prospecting Platform (Mapp) rover will be one element bringing the new communications network to the Moon (Credit: Nokia)

That investment is underway globally. Between 2021-23 Nasa’s LunarLites project, at its Glenn Research Centre in Ohio, evaluated how Earth’s 4G and 5G technologies could translate to the lunar environment and now has two new ongoing projects.

The Lunar Surface Propagation (LSP) project is studying how wireless communications systems will perform in the lunar surface environment.

“The Apollo missions all landed near the Moon’s mid-latitudes and mostly around the flat lava plains,” say Michael Zemba, Nasa’s LSP principal investigator. “For the Artemis campaign, however, our interest lies in exploring the poles of the Moon.”

Nasa’s Artemis programme intends to put astronauts in lunar orbit in 2025, with a crewed landing a year later. The South Pole is favoured due to both sustained sunlit areas and frozen water ice in permanently shadowed areas of deep craters – a potential source for water and fuel. But this varied terrain also has drawbacks. One potential landing site, known as Shackleton Crater, is two miles deep and 12 miles wide.

Regolith is more transparent to radio waves than Earth’s terrain – Michael Zemba

Shackleton Crater is deeper than the Grand Canyon,” says Zemba. “Those kinds of extremes at the South Pole present challenges for establishing wireless networks like wi-fi and 5G and that’s why it’s critical to have accurate and reliable models and simulation tools. In principle, it’s the same idea as picking a good spot for your wi-fi router at home, but with craters bigger than Manhattan.”

The fine lunar dust, or regolith, covering the Moon up to several metres deep is also challenging.

“Regolith is more transparent to radio waves than Earth’s terrain,” Zemba says. “Communications systems can therefore see an impact to performance from unseen structures like buried boulders and craters.”

As part of their simulations in 2022 the Nasa’s Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert Rats) team revisited a desert site in Arizona. Once used to prepare for Apollo missions, these field tests allowed the agency to compare theory with real-world data, albeit here on Earth. But after taking the immediate lunar environment into account, the geometry of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth brings additional complications.

The ambitious lunar exploration projects planned for the coming years will need a much more sophisticated communications network than Apollo (Credit: Nasa)

“From the lunar South Pole, Earth is only visible for roughly two weeks of each month,” says Zemba. “Even when visible, it’s always less than 10 degrees above the horizon. This means a signal directly back to Earth can interfere with itself due to reflections of the radio waves off the terrain – a phenomenon called multipath.”

This potential degradation of performance needs to be accounted for. Meanwhile, alongside Zemba’s LSP project, Nasa’s Lunar Third Generation Partnership (3GPP) is researching how to deploy wireless technologies on the Moon.

“Wireless systems have a number of fundamental challenges to operating on the lunar surface,” says Lunar 3GPP project principal investigator Raymond Wagner.

“Temperature extremes and the radiation environment alone can cause all sorts of problems for commercial-grade electronics. 4G and 5G systems are computationally complex and hardening them for the lunar surface is no small undertaking,” says Wagner. “On top of that, we’ve got a way to go to fully understand the lunar surface radio frequency propagation environment.”

Once 4G and 5G are available on the Moon, any astronaut on the surface can communicate reliably with their rovers, instruments and crew members

Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 mission was a key milestone in more ways than one. “That was particularly exciting because their next mission, IM-2 in 2025, is also our first opportunity to demonstrate cellular connectivity on the Moon and collect data,” says Zemba.

“Nasa has funded Nokia Bell Labs to demonstrate a 4G link from the lander to a rover on that mission, which will be the first cellular network on the Moon and a fantastic opportunity for both model validation and technology demonstration.”

Once 4G and 5G are available on the Moon, any astronaut on the surface can communicate reliably with their rovers, instruments and crew members. Any data coming back to Earth can then be sent over one link – an efficient way to communicate when large ground stations are often in high demand.

On the far side of the Moon, there is also the problem of maintaining communications with the Earth when it is no longer within line of sight. The only way to achieve this is via a relay satellite.

Lunar Pathfindercould help prove the concept of lunar satnav with the help of laser rangefinding from Earth (Credit: Esa)

China launched the world’s first Moon relay satellite, Queqiao-1, in 2018 to support its Chang’e 4 mission, the first soft landing on the lunar far side. Queqiao-2 is due for launch within the next few months.

Nasa is launching Moon relay satellites as part of its Lunar Communications Relay and Navigation Systems project, and the European Space Agency (Esa) – a key partner in the Artemis missions – has its Moonlight programme.

Esa is working with industry to create a network of three or four communications and data-relay satellites for the Moon, in the same way we use GPS on Earth.

The first step is the launch of the technology demonstrating Lunar Pathfinder mission in 2025. Built and owned by SSTL in the UK, it will be delivered into orbit by the commercial space transportation company Firefly Aerospace. It will be part of the Blue Ghost 2 mission which will also include a lunar lander for Nasa.

Within the next few years, a new communications infrastructure will therefore unfold for the Moon

Esa is flying a navigation payload on board and has agreed that Nasa can ride-share its instruments and access lunar relay communication services.

“We’re taking a Nasa laser retro reflector,” says Charles Cranstoun, Lunar Pathfinder’s project manager at SSTL. This will help prove the concept of a lunar satnav by firing a laser from a ranging station on Earth to accurately measure the spacecraft’s distance and velocity.

“We’re also taking a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver, which will take the furthest measurements of GNSS from Earth to see if we can do some weak signal detection there to get location measurements,” says Cranstoun. This was developed for Esa by the Swiss company SpacePNT.

Nasa scientists have been plotting how far different signals might extend compared to journey’s made by Apollo astronauts on the Moon (Credit: Nasa/Michael Zemba)

“Finally, when that’s all coupled with our own radio ranging, we’ll have three points of location data to see how the navigation system could potentially be implemented for something like Moonlight,” adds Cranstoun. “So we’re laying the groundwork for a future Moonlight constellation.”

SSTL’s aim is to become a commercial provider of communications for orbiting lunar spacecraft and landers on any part of the Moon’s surface. “Currently, if you want to get data back, you have to use the either Nasa’s Deep Space Network or Esa’s Estrack network,” Cranstoun says, referring to Europe’s global network of spacecraft-tracking ground stations, “which is getting heavily congested at the moment”.

Within the next few years, a new communications infrastructure will therefore unfold for the Moon from government space agencies and commercial companies. Nasa’s proposed system is LunaNet.

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“LunaNet is trying to replicate the terrestrial internet but around the Moon and on the Moon,” says Goonhilly’s Matt Cosby, who works with the UK Space Agency and the international community to help define standards for this new lunar communication.

“The analogy I’ve heard is Netflix on the Moon,” says SSTL’s Cranstoun. “Choose the streaming service of your choice but that’s the level of data throughput that they want to achieve.”

The first opportunity for moonwalkers to test surface communications in person is likely to be Nasa’s Artemis III mission in 2026.

“We have seen truly incredible strides in mobile communications on Earth in just the past 10 to 20 years,” says Zemba. “And if we reliably deploy those same conveniences to the Moon, we’ll be in great shape.”

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