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Europe Punts on Human Space Exploration

Excitement in Europe is high, but spending is low. Leaders still can't decide how aggressively to push for crew launch capabilities or a major Mars mission

4 min read

3 December 2008—Take a stroll down Milan’s Via Dante, which connects its famous cathedral with an old castle and park, and you’ll see a splendid series of illuminated posters illustrating space exploration, with catchy titles like ”Naked Venus,” ”Gold Digging in the Universe,” and ”A Star Is Born.” Log on to the science or technology home page of a major European newspaper like France’s Le Figaro or Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung , and you’ll find the top stories are about Mars’ subterranean glaciers, its newly discovered snowstorms, and the first close observations of its auroras. All that testifies to the high level of public interest in space exploration.

But there’s a contradiction that became apparent last week when Europe’s space ministers met in the Netherlands to set policy for the next three years. Europeans love to hear about how they’re contributing to the expansion of space-science frontiers, but they don’t particularly want to pay the bills. So it may have been disappointing, but it was not exactly a surprise when Europe’s space ministers basically stalled on the weightiest issues.

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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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