NASA to launch ICON Space Satellite to investigate the ionosphere

ICON Space Satellite

After a 24-hour delay, NASA and Northrop Grumman say that it will launch the ICON space satellite on October 10 for the study of the Earth’s ionosphere.

Due to weather conditions in the area, NASA and Northrop Grumman decided to move the Pegasus XL launch of the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) 24-hours after its initial launch date.

“ICON will study the frontier of space,” NASA says, referring to the Earth’s ionosphere, which is the dynamic zone high in our atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather above.

“The ionosphere can be a source of great beauty, but also can be disruptive to radio communications and satellites, and astronaut health,” NASA added. The space agency hopes that with the successful launch and deployment of ICON, it will be able to help determine the physical processes at play in the ionosphere and pave the way for mitigating its effects on our technology, communications systems, and society.

Now, the space agency confirms that it is currently scheduled to be air-launched over the Atlantic Ocean at 9:30 p.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 10, with the takeoff of the Stargazer L-1011 at 8:32 p.m.

NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) is attached to the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket inside Building 1555 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sept. 10, 2019. The Pegasus XL rocket, attached beneath the company’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft, will launch ICON from the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch is scheduled for Oct. 9, 2019. The explorer will help determine the physics of Earth’s space environment and pave the way for mitigating its effects on our technology and communications systems. Photo Source: NASA | Randy Beaudoin | Flickr

Initially, NASA said that it was mainly concerned with the weather that was forecast on October 9 saying that a cold front was moving in and due to the forecast of scattered showers throughout the day. Additionally, weather officials from the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing also predicted a 30% chance of favorable weather conditions for launch. NASA noted that the primary weather concerns were the cumulus cloud rule and lightning rule.

“I wish I had some better news, but ultimately, we’re going to do our best with all the tools we have at our disposal to ensure that tomorrow’s launch – or potentially Thursday night’s launch – is as safe as possible,” said Will Ulrich, launch weather officer for the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing, in a Tuesday mission briefing.

Ahead of the October 10 launch, NASA says that its teams are not working on any issues and says that the rocket, airplane, and spacecraft are ready to launch tomorrow.  “As always, the safety of the crew and mission success are our main focus,” a NASA blog says.

The Northrop Grumman L-1011 Stargazer aircraft, carrying a Pegasus XL rocket with the agency’s ICON satellite, will take off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Skid Strip.

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