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X Prize Upate: SpaceShipOne Takes the Gold

US $10 million Ansari X Prize goes to Mojave team

4 min read

4 October 2004--This morning, for the second time in five days, a privately built spaceship punched a hole in the sky over Southern California. Supporters hope the flight has also broken through metaphorical barriers to wider human access to space. The flight of SpaceShipOne completed the required twice-in-two-weeks space shot to earn the US $10 million Ansari X Prize. It also won 51-year-old test pilot Brian Binnie the second pair of astronaut wings ever earned without government assistance.

In its ascent this morning, the space plane incised a vertical white smoke trail across the blue desert sky, as straight as if a ruler had been laid across the celestial sphere. It soon faded, but the permanent message of this short-lived skywriting was unambiguous--commercial human spaceflight is now a reality.

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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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