ICON Space Weather Satellite: launched by NASA to Study Earth’s Ionosphere

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has launched a satellite called ICON or Ionospheric Connection Explorer to explore the mysterious, dynamic region where air meets space. The ICON satellite rocketed into orbit following a two-year delay and was dropped from a plane flying over the Atlantic off the Florida coast.

About ICON (Ionospheric Connection Explorer)

It will study the link between space weather and Earth weather. Five seconds after the satellite’s release, the attached Pegasus rocket ignited and sent Icon on its way.

Icon, a refrigerator-size satellite should have soared in 2017, but problems with air-launched Pegasus rocket interfered. Despite the long delay, as per the NASA this $252 million mission did not exceed its price cap.

The satellite has been built by Northrop Grumman, an American global aerospace and defense technology company.

Purpose: It will study the airglow formed from gases in ionosphere and also measure the charged environment right around the 580-kilometer-high (360-mile-high) spacecraft.

Way Forward: A NASA satellite called Gold was launched in 2018 is also studying the upper atmosphere, but from much higher up. Similarly, more missions are planned in coming years to study the ionosphere, including from International Space Station (ISS).

What is Ionosphere?

The ionosphere is the charged part of upper atmosphere extending several hundred miles up. It is in constant flux as space weather bombards it from above and Earth weather from below, sometimes disrupting radio communications.

It is our frontier with space and thus act as a protected layer present at the top of our atmosphere.

Importance: Besides Sun, the hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather conditions on Earth are also adding energy in this region. Therefore, the more scientists know, the better spacecraft and astronauts can be protected in orbit through improved forecasting.

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