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Much More Than Ever Expectedby Bridget Landry
July 8, 1997
When we first heard about the accuracy of the high-gain antenna pointing, all the scientists were rubbing their hands and cackling over the buckets and barrels and oodles of data this implied. (The accuracy of the high-gain pointing means we'll be able to use much higher data rates than were expected. There has always been the chance that the high-gain antenna wouldn't work and we would be forced into the same sort of data economies that Galileo has had to use. But it's working so well that we have actually been able to QUADRUPLE the data rate!)
But what no one worked through is that to get that much data down, you have to take that much data to start with. All those gleeful smiles and greedy eyes have turned a little uncertain and glassy as they realize that THEY are the ones who have to make the decisions and the command files. They have all this wonderful data coming down and they barely have time to look at it, because they have to be preparing for the next day's experiments. It's driving them nuts. They still want to make every bit count, but some data are better than no data, and we will only have this firehose to drink from for a short while. When our prime mission ends, we will no longer have the kind of priority on the downlink facilities that we do now, and so we'll have to use smaller antennas, which means lower data rates. And, while they may not have time to look at those pictures now, they will at some point soon, and they are trying to think of what combinations of filters and targets, calibrations and time-series images will give them the broadest, most complete understanding of the current environment and its past history. While all of this had been done before landing, no one DREAMED we'd have these data rates to work with, which significantly changes what is desirable, as well as what is possible.
As a scientist myself, I can relate to where they are; still, this embarrassment of riches is kind of fun to watch. Do you know the story about the donkey and the two identical piles of hay?...