Photo of a rocket as it moves slowly toward the pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Center, in China\u2019s Hainan Province.A Long March 5 rocket is moved slowly toward the pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Center, in China’s Hainan Province.Photo: Sun Hao/Xinhua/Redux

In the 2015 science fiction blockbuster The Martian, the United States makes a rushed effort to send life-sustaining provisions to its marooned astronaut on the Red Planet. Alas, the attempt fails when NASA’s resupply rocket explodes shortly after liftoff. But officials with China’s national space program save the day when they offer the services of a previously secret Chinese rocket that is capable of ferrying the needed materials.

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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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