Karin Hauck

ICON Ready to Ship

The ICON observatory

The ICON observatory

The ICON mission is proceeding apace. High fives are in order since the team just completed its fourth operational readiness test (ORT). During an ORT, a dozen SSL Mission Operation Team Members join forces with two dozen spacecraft engineers from Orbital ATK to rehearse the first week of activities that will occur during ICON’s launch and early orbit. It’s an entire week of long days and intensive testing in ICON’s Mission Operations Center at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab, to simulate operation of the observatory. Spurred along by the fact that this was the final ORT before launch, the team worked together to bring it to a healthy and successful completion (simulating operations with a failed momentum wheel, no less). The next time these teams come together at SSL will be the actual launch day for ICON.

ICON solar array attached for the final time after testing deployment

ICON solar array attached for the final time after testing deployment

Meanwhile, the observatory has completed its final testing and close-out at Orbital ATK's facility in Gilbert, AZ. This involved installing the last few critical parts and testing everything one more time. Pending one more review, the spacecraft will be shipped by truck to Vandenberg Air Force base in central California. Here the observatory will be mated to the Pegasus launch vehicle. The rocket will be attached to the belly of Orbital ATK's Stargazer aircraft -- a Lockheed Tri-Star L-1011 airliner which has been converted to be a mothership for launching Pegasus rockets. The airliner, with the rocket hanging underneath, will be flown to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It will land – very carefully – and be greeted by the launch operations team, which will perform the final aliveness tests and preparations for launch.

ICON being loaded into its shipping container

ICON being loaded into its shipping container

In the early morning hours (17:16 UT) on Dec 8 (Dec 9th at Kwajalein), the L-1011 jet will lift into the sky. If everything checks out, the rocket will be dropped from the jet at 39,000 feet and, after 5 seconds, its 1st stage motor will ignite. About 100 seconds later, the fairing will open, and less than ten minutes later, the ICON observatory will separate from the third stage, ready to begin exploring the little-understood ionosphere at the edge of space.

The L-1011 aircraft will fly the Pegasus rocket containing ICON

The L-1011 aircraft will fly the Pegasus rocket containing ICON

ICON will analyze the atmosphere from multiple perspectives, including tracking the movement, composition and temperature of both the high-altitude winds and the charged gas, the plasma, in the ionosphere.

Go, ICON!
Previous Article Keeping it Clean: ICON Purge Flow Tests
Print
156

Name:
Email:
Subject:
Message:
x
ICON skin is based on Greytness by Adammer
Background image, courtesy of NASA, is a derivitave of photograph taken by D. Pettit from the ISS, used under Creative Commons license