NASA James Webb Space Telescope orbiting observatory to use SpaceWire data networking

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- The NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will use an advanced-technology network interface called SpaceWire that enables the components on the telescope to work efficiently and reliably with each other.

Oct 25th, 2007

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- The NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will use an advanced-technology network interface called SpaceWire that enables the components on the telescope to work efficiently and reliably with each other.

SpaceWire, developed originally by the European Space Agency, is a standard for high-speed communication links between satellite components, and has been adopted and improved by a team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The JWST Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and Command and Data Handling (ICDH) engineering team has developed a small and very low power microchip that sends and receives SpaceWire signals at speeds of over 200 megabits per second.

The JWST prime contractor is the Northrop Grumman Space Technology sector (formerly TRW) in Redondo Beach, Calif.

SpaceWire's high bandwidth enables the JWST ISIM to support the mission's science instruments, which employ 66 million detector pixels -- the largest number of pixels ever used on a space telescope. SpaceWire also will enable JWST to study more of the universe.

Handling the large volume of data from these detectors presented a unique challenge for the JWST ICDH team. The development of this network interface enables the JWST science instruments to realize their full scientific discovery potential, and will permit future NASA mission planners to consider use of more detectors with an even larger number of pixels to see even more of the universe, NASA officials say.

"Infusing the SpaceWire-based network interface into the JWST mission enables scientific discovery by allowing the JWST science instruments to operate at very high data collection rates," says Pam Sullivan, manager of the JWST ISIM for Northrop Grumman Space Technology.

SpaceWire eases the interconnection of sensors, mass-memories, and processing units aboard spacecraft. The standard reduces system integration costs, increases compatibility between data handling equipment and subsystems, and encourages re-use of data handling equipment across several different missions.

The increase in speed achieved using SpaceWire is analogous to the advantage of a high-speed broadband Internet connection over a dial-up modem, NASA officials say. SpaceWire connects multiple spacecraft components on super-fast links to get a quicker result.

NASA Goddard's version of the SpaceWire technology also has accelerated development of the JWST instrument electronics. The JWST ICDH team delivered the SpaceWire technology -- implemented in 1.5-Watt, 66-megabit-per-second field-programmable gate array (FPGA) -- to JWST partners Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the Canadian Space Agency.

As a result of this JWST technology development, other missions are considering SpaceWire, including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R). SpaceWire is also being used for technology development at other NASA centers including the NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio; JPL, Pasadena, Calif.; Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.; and the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

The benefits to other missions in using SpaceWire include lower cost development, a reduced development schedule, better reliability, and an increase in the amount of scientific work that can be achieved within a limited budget.

Commercially, nearly every major aerospace company in the U.S. has received Goddard's SpaceWire technology either for projects with NASA or other government labs or for evaluation via a 90-day license. Now Goddard's SpaceWire technology is being distributed free via software usage agreements.

The JWST is a space observatory that will peer back more than 13 billion years in time to understand the formation of galaxies, stars, planets, and the evolution of Earth's solar system. It is expected to launch in 2013 as a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.

More in Defense Executive