Despite the fact that we’d likely drown in our own waste if it weren’t for their ­enormous fondness for eating our ­garbage and excrement, flies don’t get any respect. Not from most of us ­anyway, who see only pests and disease vectors as we swat with abandon whenever they’re around.

But there are a few good scientists and engineers who reach for their notebooks and video cameras instead, amazed and astounded by flies’ aeronautic wizardry. With a brain that’s home to several hundred thousand neurons—we each house 100 billion in ours—a fly can duck, dive, hover, rotate, and fly with easy accuracy and endurance, despite having a lousy field of vision and a carb-based Dumpster diet for fuel.

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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.

NASA

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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