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A Digital Soyuz

Russian crew spacecraft replaces its computer and analog parts for a new mission

4 min read
A Digital Soyuz

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Illustration: Russian Space Agency/James Oberg

28 September 2010—For almost 40 years, the Soyuz series of spacecraft has carried cosmonauts into orbit and back safely, if not always comfortably. The workhorse human transport vehicle has undergone a series of upgrades during that period, and it is now about to undergo its latest—and probably final—revision. At long last, Soyuz is all digital.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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