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NASA's Phoenix Mission to Mars Launches

Its search for life starts in May

1 min read

6 August 2007—NASA’s latest Mars mission launched this past Saturday after being delayed for a day due to inclement weather. The Phoenix lander, scheduled to descend onto the Red Planet next May, carries instruments that will aid the quest to try to find evidence of life beneath the planet’s icy arctic region.

Despite all the attention given to the possibility of finding life on our planetary neighbor, Phoenix is only the first Mars lander properly equipped to do such identification and analysis since the 1976 Viking mission. It will land in Vastitas Borealis, the arctic plains of Mars, and will spend more than 90 days investigating the history of water on Mars, assessing whether the planet could have ever supported life, and examining weather and climate near the pole.

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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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