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The Einstein Telescope

Planning a bigger, badder gravitational-wave detector

3 min read

The universe is filled with spectacular events that we don't understand. Right now, a star is going supernova, but we don't know what the inside looks like; two neutron stars are spiraling toward each other, but we don't know what the collision will look like. And a black hole is swallowing another black hole, but we don't know how they're shaped.

What makes these phenomena so hard to fathom is that the electromagnetic messages they send out are limited. But those messages aren't their only signals: According to Einstein's general theory of relativity, such events should create powerful waves of gravity—ripples in the curvature of space-time that alternately stretch and compress everything in their path.

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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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