NASA, the American space research organisation, launched a satellite on Thursday night to explore the mysterious, dynamic region where air meets space. The satellite named Icon which is short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer rocketed into orbit following a two-year delay. It was dropped from a plane flying over the Atlantic off the Florida coast.
LAUNCH UPDATE: We are a go for another launch attempt of our #NASAICON mission that will help scientists understand the physical processes at work where Earth’s atmosphere interacts with near-Earth space. Tune in: https://t.co/lrCXIapjRQ— NASA (@NASA) October 11, 2019
At 9:59 pm ET, our #NASAICON satellite successfully air-launched over the Atlantic Ocean on @northropgrumman’s #PegasusXL rocket! 🚀Now in orbit, our ICON mission will help scientists better understand the dynamic region where Earth meets space. Details: https://t.co/jS0fteTYAY pic.twitter.com/HgULtoq0U1— NASA (@NASA) October 11, 2019
3, 2, 1 DROP! 🛰 @northropgrumman’s Stargazer aircraft released the #PegasusXL rocket that is carrying our #NASAICON satellite to orbit. Watch our live coverage: https://t.co/lrCXIa7Itg pic.twitter.com/0BrX4SJFQX— NASA (@NASA) October 11, 2019
The ionosphere is the charged part of the upper atmosphere extending several hundred miles up. It’s in constant flux as space weather bombards it from above and Earth weather from below, sometimes disrupting radio communications. “This protected layer, it’s the top of our atmosphere. It’s our frontier with space,” said NASA’s heliophysics division director, Nicola Fox.
The division director said there’s too much going on in this region to be caused by just the sun. Hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather conditions on Earth are also adding energy, she noted. The more scientists know, the better spacecraft and astronauts can be protected in orbit through improved forecasting.
The refrigerator-size Icon satellite will study the airglow formed from gases in the ionosphere and also measure the charged environment right around the 360-mile-high (580-kilometer-high) spacecraft. “It’s a remarkable physics laboratory,” said principal scientist Thomas Immel of the University of California, Berkeley, which is overseeing the two-year mission. He added: “Icon goes where the action is.”
Icon should have soared in 2017, but problems with Northrop Grumman’s air-launched Pegasus rocket interfered. Despite the long delay, NASA said the $252 million mission did not exceed its price cap. Northrop Grumman also built the satellite. During a news conference earlier this week, NASA launch director Omar Baez apologized for the delay.“We wanted to get things right on this rocket,” Baez said. “We have no second chances on these type of missions.” He added, after all, that was said and done in the end, everything went well. “This is about as good as it gets,” he concluded.
(INPUTS FROM AP)