NORAD Gets a Makeover

The famous underground command center is updated for post-9/11 missions

3 min read

1 June 2005--On 11 September 2001, the day Al Qaeda struck the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the most sophisticated military command center in the world suddenly seemed a little backward. The Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center's mission was to defend against an all-out attack by hundreds of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, not four hijacked airplanes.

Not so anymore. Last January the defense department took the wrapping off a new and improved Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC), the home of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, made famous in movies such as War Games (1983) and Failsafe (1964). Newly installed hardware and software provide its staff with technological tools that give them their best hope of accurate information about an unfolding event and let them confer efficiently and quickly. The new system also helps them avoid misjudgments while plotting the next move in a trial of wits and weapons against any potential enemy.

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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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