U.S.-Russian Space Cooperation in Doubt

Unease spreads on former Soviet side

3 min read

14 April 2004--The grounding of the U.S. shuttle fleet last year after the Columbia disaster and the increasingly parlous state of the International Space Station have left the United States more dependent than ever on its erstwhile rival Russia for support. Yet the Bush administration's redirection of U.S. space efforts to emphasize manned missions to the Moon and possibly to Mars has unleashed an avalanche of questions in the former Soviet state, leaving partners deeply confused about how to make constructive proposals for future cooperation.

At the heart of the uncertainty are NASA budget projections implying that all U.S. financial support for the International Space Station will end in 2016, along with recent White House hints that support may continue longer after all, with money coming from the space exploration budget [see " Budget Breakdown," IEEE Spectrum, April 2004]. Uncertainty about fundamentals like that have left NASA partners wondering what's really going on.

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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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