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Boeing Runs Into Turbulence

Boeing readies an attractive new plane, but serious doubts persist about engineering, management, labor relations, and commitment to civil aviation

7 min read

Not so long ago, if you looked up in the sky and saw a passenger jet, chances were roughly 80 percent that it was made by the Boeing Co. That was then; this is now. Boeing, based in Chicago, has changed its flight plan. Fiercely committed until recently to producing the world's best airplanes--and making just about every part of them--it now wants to become the dominant player in the military and aerospace businesses. Those markets increasingly provide the greater part of its revenues, which were about US $50 billion in 2003.

In commercial aviation, faced with a sharp challenge from Europe's Airbus SAS, the company hopes to achieve efficiencies--like Airbus--by styling itself as a large-scale systems integrator. It expects to buy airframe subsystems from suppliers for less than it would cost to make them itself. It will put together large sections of planes at its Everett, Wash., facility, leaving its suppliers with the job of making nuts, bolts, and panels.

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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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