NASA satellite launches to explore where air meets space

NASA satellite launches to explore where air meets space

NASA satellite launches to explore where air meets space

A NASA satellite launched past year, Gold, is also studying the upper atmosphere, but from much higher up.

The satellite-called Icon, short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer-rocketed into orbit following a two-year delay. The first launch alternative around 9:30 was skipped on account of communication points between the ground team at Cape Canaveral and the plane. Rather than launching atop a rocket from the ground, ICON was strapped to a Pegasus XL rocket that was under underneath a Northrop Grumman Stargazer L-1011 aircraft.

NASA expects to receive the first data from ICON in November. Also, its observations could help us understand why the ionosphere's weather can cause spacecraft to decay prematurely, as well as know more about the radiation-related health risks it poses to astronauts. Traditionally, this crucial area of the near to Earth space has been tough to observe. The - mile-high (580 - kilometer-high) spacecraft. It's in constant flux as space weather bombards it from above and Earth weather from below, sometimes disrupting radio communications.

That's why NASA wants to explore it from the inside with the ICON satellite, traveling within the ionosphere at an orbit about 350 miles above the Earth's surface. Full-fledged auroras appear near the poles in the ionosphere, but airglow is a fainter version of the same process that can happen nearly anyplace. NASA hopes to use ICON to study the so-called airglow in the ionosphere. But it's still bright enough for ICON's instruments to build up a picture of the ionosphere's density, composition and structure. This instrument characterizes the charged gases immediately surrounding the spacecraft. ICON's solar panels deployed properly and the spacecraft's systems are all healthy as it begins a commissioning period before it starts its science mission next month.

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ICON is an Explorer-class mission.

"It's also the weather we experience here on Earth, those hurricanes, tornadoes, those big weather systems that are actually forcing up from below and then meeting this space weather coming in from above it", said Nicky Fox with NASA's Heliophysics.

The Naval Research Laboratory in Washington developed the Michelson Interferometer for Global High-resolution Thermospheric Imaging instrument. It has an ion drift meter to detect faint hints of plasma, a wind speed and temperature sensor, and several infrared imagers.

The region where our planet's weather meets weather of the space is also home to the International Space Station (ISS) and it is also a critical pathway for our communication satellites.

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