NASA will soon launch a mission that aims to explore Earth’s ionosphere. The launch is quite complex as it implies the launch of the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (or ICON) with the use of a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL Rocket. The rocket itself will be carried by a massive aircraft that is set to take of from Cape Canaveral and drop the rocket over the ocean.
There was a small delay as the rocket was received some additional tests in order to verify that it is completely functional.
ICON will monitor ‘’airglow’’, a type radiation that is emitted by the ionosphere and shares similar features with the more popular auroras. The initiative will allow us to learn more about the radiation, gases and magnetic fields that can be found in the ionosphere. At this point our knowledge of the ionosphere is quite limited since because of its position. It’s situated to high or balloons to reach and below the minimal altitude needed by satellites
Icon will make use of four distinct instruments during the mission: EUV will track gas density; IVM will observe the motion of gases, MIGHTI measures wind and temperature intensity FUV will elaborate complex thermospheric composition and altitude profiles for day and night cycles.
It estimated that the mission will last for a period of two years but the term may be prolonged, depending on several factors.
ICON is a part of NASA’s Explorers Program, which can be traced back to the very first American satellite, Explorer One, which was launched in 1958.
The aircraft is built on a LEOStar-2 buss and an array of solar panels will keep it powered up.
Before the official launch takes place, the airship will do a test run in order to verify that all the systems are completely operational
It is hoped that ICON will be able to deliver valuable information that will help us to learn more about the ionosphere.