LATE LAST YEAR , Russia's S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia (known as RKK) revealed detailed plans for a next-generation, reusable space orbiter, dubbed the Kliper (Clipper in English). The project would be the first Russian attempt to build a manned transport spacecraft since the Buran, the Soviet equivalent of the U.S. space shuttle, was abandoned in 1992 as the Soviet economy was collapsing. And the Kliper could be, in effect, the successor to the U.S. space shuttle�perhaps as the vehicle of choice in a joint Russian-European space program.

The existence of the Kliper project had been disclosed a year earlier, though not in as much detail. What was really new and surprising was the announcement that it would be launched aboard a Ukrainian Zenit rocket.

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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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