NASA’s continues to explore the frontiers of space. One of its neatest missions, the Ionospheric Connection Exploration (ICON) satellite, was supposed to launch in June. However, that launch has been delayed. Let’s learn a little about one of the newest exploratory missions in our solar system.
What is ICON?
Artist rendering of satellite
The Ionospheric Connection Explorer will study the frontier of space: the dynamic zone high in our atmosphere where Earth weather and space weather meet. Here, the tenuous gases are anything but quiet, as a mix of neutral and charged particles swirl in giant winds.
What will it do?
ICON will fly in an orbit around Earth at a 27-degree inclination and at an altitude of some 360 miles. This places it in position to observe the ionosphere around the equator. ICON will aim its instruments for a view of what’s happening at the lowest boundary of space at about 55 miles up to 360 miles.
ICON carries four instruments to collect images of the ionosphere and to directly measure characteristics of the space environment through which it flies. Together, the suite of instruments offers a perspective that would otherwise require two or more orbiting spacecraft. The instruments will provide the first comprehensive look at this crucial region to help scientists understand – and someday predict – what drives disturbances in the ionosphere.
Why was it delayed?
According to ICON’s official NASA site, the launch was scrubbed early in June. “During a ferry transit, Northrop Grumman saw off-nominal data from the Pegasus rocket,” Linda Herridge wrote on the ICON blog. “While ICON remains healthy, the mission will return to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for rocket testing and data analysis. A new launch date will be determined at a later date.”