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”The snow brought us a little bit back to Earth,” says Kathryn Bywaters. A biochemistry student, Bywaters was a member of Mars Desert Research Station crew 42, a team of five men and one woman who spent two weeks last January as if on a mission to Mars. In reality they were in a desert in Utah, ­living in one of two Red Planet simulations operated by the Mars Society. Crew members have actual missions: this crew tested a robotic rover built by the University of Pecs, Hungary. And Bywaters, who is not in this photo, conducted a survey of the desert’s salt-tolerant bacteria. The station is meant to ­simulate as closely as possible what living and working on Mars would be like. But sometimes the illusion is ­broken. Snow doesn’t fall on Mars, but nearby Hanksville, Utah, ­averages 15 centimeters per 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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