The James Webb Telescope’s hard drive can’t store Warzone, but it will withstand the horrific effects of cosmic radiation
Our colleagues at Tom’s Hardware (opens in a new tab) noticed something interesting: the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which replaces the Hubble array used to take HD photos of the outer reaches of space, has an absolutely puny 68 gigabyte hard drive. Which give?!
I think this raises some interesting questions about what makes computer hardware “powerful” or, more accurately, well-suited for its task. The JWST, which produced incredible images (opens in a new tab), is equipped with a “Solid State Recorder” which stores the data collected by the network before transmitting it to Earth. The JWST is designed to collect about 57 GB of data each day, transmitting half the quota at a time for two orbital windows in Earth’s rotation. The telescope itself doesn’t have substantial long-term storage because it doesn’t need it – that data doesn’t do anyone floating in space any good.
To withstand the ambient dangers of open space, the JWST’s hard drive has been “radiation hardened”, and it has about 10 GB more storage than it needs for daily operation – a redundancy intentionally to ensure that it retains its functional capacity as it degrades over its expected 10-year life.
In the end, I still find it somewhat profound to see the same basic hardware and concepts at play in consumer hardware applied to the most advanced and cutting-edge human endeavors. It’s like seeing a blue screen of death on a billboard and remembering that it’s just an oversized computer, but instead of a wry chuckle you rush to the idea of the potential of humanity.
It’s also a reminder that all the raw computing power in the world – teraflops, gigabytes, things of that nature – is meaningless if it’s not used efficiently. My beefy desktop has almost as much RAM as the JWST has storage, but crashes regularly under the weight of Chrome. I find some of the most interesting stories in computing come from doing the most with less, and while the JWST’s SSD can’t fit Warzone or even Destiny 2 for that matter, it’s precisely the right tool For his work.
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