News Feature | June 17, 2022

Bright Ideas — NASA To Reveal First JWST Color Images, Optical Laser Communications Advances

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By Abby Proch, Editor

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Everyone loves to glimpse that first picture of a baby after its long-anticipated arrival. And now, those eagerly awaiting images of our universe in its infancy should get ready to ooh and ahh: NASA is set to reveal the James Webb Space Telescope’s first full-cover images (and spectroscopic data) on July 12. The big reveal will happen at 10:30 a.m. via the Agency’s social media channels and at nasa.gov/webbfirstimages. The following day, NASA will host “Webb’s First Full-Color Images Explained” live on its NASA Science Live website and social media channels. Viewers can ask questions via the #UnfoldTheUniverse hashtag or through the channels’ chat section.

The Space Development Agency’s communications mesh network just took another step forward with news that a recent Northrop Grumman ground test of laser satellite interlinks proved successful. The network will provide a foundation for all-domain operations on Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). According to a Breaking Defense report, optical inter-satellite links (OISL) would provide a “high-speed, low latency data communications network in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).” One of the biggest takeaways is that the test confirmed that commercial developed laser communications and encrypted U.S. government hardware are compatible. Northrop Grumman also revealed is partnering with Mynaric for its optical communications terminal and Innoflight for an encryption device.

In other laser communication news, BlueHalo has won an $11 million contract with the United States Air Force Lab to provide two optical laser communications proto-flight terminals and a ground for satellite positioning and timing. According to a press release, the technology will support “GEO-to-LEO optical uplinks and downlinks, space-to-ground links, positioning and timing accuracies over optical links, and interoperability with multiple optical communications standards.”

Using gravitational lensing produced by the Sun, a physicist and fellow researchers with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory are hoping to capture high-resolution images of Earth-like exoplanets. This Solar Gravity Lens (SGL), funded in part by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NAIC) program, would be akin to a conventional lens with diameter of 1.4 million km, or the diameter of the sun, according to lead physicist Slava Turyshev. According to Universe Today, the SGL would be positioned in space where it would use the Sun “to bend the light from an exoplanet, magnifying it into a gigantic image.” A paper published in April claims that the project would be possible, but still challenging, given all its technologies are existing or in development.

Scientists with the University of Oxford are exploring the use of polarized light as parallel data channels to make photonic computing faster and capable of even greater data storage. Just as different wavelengths of light do not interact with one another, the same can be said for polarization channels. This method uses nanowires modulated with nanosecond optical pulses to produce speeds up to 300 times faster than traditional electronic chips. According to an article published by the University, the team developed a hybridized-active-dielectric (HAD) nanowire with “selective responses to a specific polarization direction” so that information can be passed along different polarizations in different directions at the same time.

Finally, in the four-plus months since the most recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, storylines have covered nearly every inch of the conflict and its complex affects on the people of Ukraine and beyond. Optica recently look at the crisis through a new lens: the plight of Ukrainian and ex-pat scientists struggling to protect their families and save their science. “Ukraine: Kharkiv Stories” explores the intimate accounts of the ongoing war and what it means for these scientists’ personal and professional lives.