Through this submarine-like hatch, volunteers for a 500-day simulated mission to Mars will transit from one train-car-size module to another in a mock-up of a Mars-faring spacecraft. The Institute of Biomedical Problems, in suburban Moscow, is now completing preparations to lock a group of people into the simulator in an effort to identify psychological problems that may arise during very long space missions. The main living module sports cozy wood paneling to seem Earthlike. But the decor is unlikely to make up for the isolation from all but your bunkmates. Phoning home won’t help. It takes up to 15 minutes for radio signals to reach Earth from a Mars-bound craft, so all the voice and data lines into the simulator will be tape-delayed.

The crew will practice various psychological support techniques while scientists from the Russian and European space agencies monitor them remotely. Researchers will also be testing the crew’s mental health in simulated emergencies. More than just a punishing stress test, the exercises will also assess the adequacy of remotely monitoring the physiological and psychological health of space travelers experiencing unprecedented isolation. In contrast to the International Space Station, which is frequently visited by Russian and American space vehicles carrying supplies and spare parts for emergencies, absolutely nothing will be added to the simulated spacecraft after it ”departs” from Earth early next year.

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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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