Replacement for Hubble Space Telescope Will Use Copper-based Communications Systems

Optical fiber interconnects not yet good enough for James Webb Space Telescope, but SpaceWire standard is.

4 min read
Image: NASA

14 January--NASA has opted for copper over optical fiber for connecting components in the next-generation space telescope. In a situation somewhat akin to telecom operators' widespread use of DSL technology instead of fiber optics for broadband service, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will use advanced twisted-pair technology to bridge instruments and electronic components across it's tennis-court-size frame, according to NASA.

NASA engineers say optical-fiber interconnect technology is still not up to the challenges of space. ”Fiber-optics drivers and receivers aren't at a state where the space industry can utilize them,” says Mark Voyton, data-handling systems manager for the JWST. ”However, I expect future generations to be fiber.”

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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