Swift Satellite Turns on a Dime

NASA craft to be launched this month must act fast to catch fleeting deep space explosions

3 min read

1 November 2004--NASA plans to launch a satellite this month that can peer back in time billions of years to a point in the history of the universe about which almost nothing is known. The only evidence from that period comes from the most violent explosions ever observed, called gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Astronomers do not know for sure what causes them. They could be caused by colliding neutron stars or black holes forming in the death throes of the very first stars in the universe.

With the new satellite, the Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer, a collaboration between NASA and scientific institutions in the United Kingdom and Italy, astronomers are hoping to pin down definitively the origins of GRBs. Swift was originally supposed to be launched in 2003, but a number of set backs, the latest being hurricane damage to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, have delayed the mission. At press time, Swift's launch is scheduled for 11 November, and scientists are keeping their fingers crossed.

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The Webb Space Telescope’s Profound Data Challenges

3,000x farther from Earth than Hubble—with a 25x greater download deluge

4 min read
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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