Two major NASA missions launched last year are revealing a communications weakness in space.
NASA communicates with all of its distant spacecraft, from the orion capsule towards James Webb Space Telescope (Webb or JWST) to traveler 1 — through the Deep Space Network, a collection of 14 antennas located at three sites in California, Spain, and Australia. But the network is busy and ensure that each mission beyond Land orbit has the communications time it needs can be complicated, a problem that the artemis 1 the mission has been exacerbated.
“Over the summer they told us that when the Artemis space mission launched, the Deep Space Network was going to be basically taken over entirely by Artemis because they needed to track the spacecraft,” said Mercedes Lopez-Morales, a Harvard Smithsonian astrophysicist. . Center for Astrophysics and chair of the JWST Users Committee, he said at a meeting of the Board of Physics and Astronomy of the US National Academies of Sciences on Wednesday (November 30).
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The time came on November 1. 16, when NASA launched Artemis 1. A test flight to kick off the agency’s return to the moon, the 25-day mission sent an uncrewed Orion capsule into lunar orbit and is scheduled to land on Earth on December 1. eleven.
While Orion is in flight and beyond low-Earth orbit, it is in almost constant contact with the Deep Space Network, a major drain that has left the James Webb Space Telescope and other missions on the back seat. NASA has learned that Artemis will test the Deep Space Network; the agency fixed improvements to some antennas and added two new ones in January 2021 Y March 2022 in the preparation of
But the communication time is still short. “It could be up to 80 hours, that’s about three and a half days, without any contact with JWST,” López-Morales said he was told before the launch of Artemis 1.
JWST scientists typically send commands to the $10 billion observatory about once a week, he told the board, so infrequent communications don’t affect the observatory receiving their instructions. But for astronomers to truly enjoy the power of Webb, the telescope must be able to transmit its data back home, and to do so before your computer fills up.
“The big problem is that you can’t download data for so long,” López-Morales said.
For Artemis 1, he said, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, which operates both the JWST and the hubble space telescope, readjusted the JWST observation schedule. The scientists prioritized shorter observations, which create smaller data batches, to reduce the chances that the telescope’s computer would fill up before the Deep Space Network could accept the next data batch.
But with NASA planning additional Artemis launches, and these with humans on board, in 2024 and beyond, scientists want a different solution to the communications jam.
“We are desperately asking NASA to come up with a plan to somehow have more access to the antennas,” López-Morales said.
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