For most of us, the sight of houseflies zooming around the kitchen or executing precision landings on top of freshly baked bread unleashes a primal urge to kill, maim, or dismember these germy little creatures. Not so for Rafaſ Żbikowski and his colleagues [see " Fly Like a Fly" in this issue], who want to know how these insects are able to carry out their aerial acrobatics. The researchers are taking the lessons they learn from Musca domestica to try to build something called a micro air vehicle, or MAV, a tiny flapping-wing robot that could be used for military reconnaissance, disaster rescue efforts, or other kinds of work requiring remote sensing.

Nothing succeeds like success. And houseflies have plenty of it to share. At low speeds, for example, the fly can outmaneuver any human-built craft, reaching speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour and accelerations of 3 g's. And it can fly straight up, down, or backward, and somersault to land upside down on a ceiling.

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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.


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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