The James Webb Space Telescope captures the universe on a 68GB SSD

With the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) now up and running and picking up some amazing pictures, you may be wondering exactly how it is stored. Surprisingly, it holds a relatively small 68GB SSD drive, according to IEEE Spectrum – Enough to handle a day’s worth of JWST images, but not much more.

While this may seem ridiculously small for a $10 billion satellite, there are multiple reasons for NASA choosing the system. First of all, JWST is located a million miles from Earth where it is bombarded with radiation and operates at temperatures below 50 degrees above absolute zero (-370 degrees Fahrenheit). Therefore, the SSD, like all other parts, must be radiation-reinforced and withstand a cumbersome certification process.

Although not as fast as consumer SSDs, they can still be filled in less than 120 minutes via the telescope’s 48Mbps ICDH subsystem. At the same time, JWST can send data back to Earth at 28Mbps over a 25.9GHz Ka-band connection to the Deep Space Network.

This means that even though it collects a lot more data than Hubble ever did (57GB compared to 1-2GB per day), it can transmit all of that data back to Earth in about 4.5 hours. It does this during two 4-hour communication windows each day, each allowing 28.6GB of scientific data to be transmitted. In other words, it just needs enough storage space to collect daily images – there’s no need to keep them on the telescope itself.

However, there is one mystery. NASA estimates that only 60 gigabytes of storage will be available at the end of the JWST’s 10-year lifespan due to corrosion and radiation — 3 percent of the drive is used to store engineering and standard data remotely. This will leave a very slim JWST margin, leaving us wondering if it will get anywhere near the longevity of Hubble – still going strong after 32 years.

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