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The Artemis 1 lunar mission complicated communication with the James Webb telescope: it can be absent for up to 80 hours

Launched as part of the Artemis 1 lunar mission, the Orion spacecraft has become a priority for NASA, which has also affected other US space agency missions. In particular, communication with the James Webb Telescope (JWST) has become more complicated.

“Selfie” of the Orion spacecraft, Luna and Terra. Image source: nasa.gov

NASA communicates with distant spacecraft using the Deep Space Network, the ground part of which includes 14 antennas installed in California, Spain and Australia. However, the capacity of this network is limited and ensuring enough time for communication sessions to be established with all devices proves to be a difficult task, exacerbated by the Artemis 1 mission. The problem was acknowledged by User Committee James Webb head, Mercedes López-Morales, during his address to a meeting of the Physics and Astronomy Council of the US National Academy of Sciences on November 30: “In the summer, we were told that when the Artemis space mission launches, it will almost completely occupy the Deep Space Network due to the need to track the spacecraft.”.

25 day mission started November 16 – Orion is launched into lunar orbit with plans to return on December 11. While it is flying out of low Earth orbit, the operators are forced to communicate with it almost constantly, and this is a serious problem, because James Webb and all other missions have faded into the background. NASA was aware of this issue: some of the Deep Space Network’s antennas were upgraded, and two new ones were added in January 2021 and March 2022.

    James Webb Space Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope

However, these measures have not solved the problem: communication with the telescope may not last up to 80 hours, or three and a half days, Ms Lopez-Morales said. On the one hand, there’s no reason to panic, the astrophysicist continued, because the scientists working with James Webb send teams to the device about once a week, and there is no particular threat to the mission. But for an observatory to perform to its full potential, it needs to be able to send its data home, and do it sooner. little guide it will be filled. And this is already a problem: scientists have not been able to get data for a long time.

As a result, the Artemis 1 mission forced the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, which runs James Webb and Hubble, to change its observing schedule for the former. Priority has been given to short operations that result in small data packets. This reduces the likelihood that the device’s SSD will fill up before the next batch of materials can be sent across the Deep Space Network.

Now scientists are alarmed by the idea that more launches are planned as part of Artemis missions, including manned spacecraft, in 2024 and beyond. Therefore, the researchers are already urging NASA engineers to find an alternative solution to get out of the “communication impasse”.

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