NASA is planning to launch the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in 2018, a move that will open humanity’s eyes to new depths of outer space and enable researchers to probe the mysteries the universe.
Image Credit: NASA-JPL/Doug Ellison
Before we launch the JWST, however, it’s imperative to ensure the hardware onboard is working properly. Ideally, we want to make sure all repairs are done on the Earth's surface since it isn't feasible to make repairs on the JWST when it's already in space.
Along with several other tests, NASA recently conducted what they’re calling an “end to end” communication test. During this test, all of the communication components that will help the JWST talk to us from space worked in tandem with each other to send and receive signals.
“This was the first time all the different parts worked together at the same time, and this was the first time it was tested against the actual spacecraft flight hardware,” said Alan Johns, ground segment and operations manager for the JWST.
NASA conducted the several-hour communication tests via the ground-based Space Network (SN) and Deep Space Network (DSN) systems.
“DSN is our workhorse for the life of the mission,” he continued. “It got tested at every rate, every setting, and every possible permutation, and it worked just great.”
The agency started with basic-level commands and telemetry data exchanges via the Space Network in May. Later on, in June, they performed additional similar data transfers and storage offloading via the Deep Space Network.
These types of data exchanges are critical for the proper operation of the JWST in space; they’re also essential for making sure it gets to space safely and ends up in the right place and that we get all our data from the space telescope after it makes observations of the cosmos.
Unsurprisingly, the JWST passed its communication tests with flying colors, which spells out great news for its progress.
“I felt pretty good that this test was going to be as successful as it turned out to be,” Johns said. “A lot of people put in a lot of hours, and the thoroughness that goes into checking every command parameter and every telemetry point paid off in the actual execution of the test.”
With more than a year to go before the expected launch date, the JWST will go through one final communication test in 2018 at the launch site. If everything goes well, the launch will proceed as expected.
The JWST has brought with it tons of hype from the astronomy community. Now that things are finally coming together, it has the potential to be a game-changer in space exploration.