How to Build a Research Satellite

ICON Assembly and Testing

Karin Hauck 0 2049

It’s about a year until ICON launches, and all teamsscience, instruments, mission operations and modeling teamsare moving forward with laser focus. There is little time to rest when so much goes into making a NASA satellite ready for launch in June 2017.  Systems need to be tested to ensure they can download and process the data that ICON will be generating nearly continuously, orbit after orbit, in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Current data processing testing is making use of the data that the flight instruments are already producing as they undergo ground testing—it's a great way to see how everything's flowing through the data pipeline.  In fact, the mission and instrument operations teams worked together recently to perform a “day in the life” test with the instruments, where they ran them through a 24 hour long sequence of commands, to simulate what they will do over a full day's worth of orbits.

A Cake to Celebrate a Milestone

Karin Hauck 0 1171

The team working on ICON’s payload had a party over the weekend to commemorate their working together for the past year and their “empty nester” status now that the instrument has gone to Utah (Space Dynamics Lab) for testing and integration. UC Berkeley Electrical Engineer and party host Dorothy Gordon ordered the festive ICON cake from a local bakery. She said, “I had a great time working with the ICON-ICP (instrument control package) team and just wanted to get them all together again before we all drift off.” The send-off after their intensive work together takes place one year before ICON launches, so the cake could also be an “anti-birthday cake” celebrating ICON’s minus-one birthday!

The Start of ICON

Research reveals how much we’d been missing of our connection to space

Dr. Thomas Immel 0 2018

Earth’s ionosphere is chemically and dynamically complex—energized and stirred up by the aurora at the poles, concentrated and unstable at the equator. ICON focuses on this region because it is the place where coupling between our atmosphere and our space environment really occurs.  Our understanding of this relationship has come from almost a century of measurements, first from the ground and later from space.

ICON integration and testing is underway at the Space Dynamics Lab in Utah

Claire Raftery 0 1885

The integration and testing processes for the ICON payload have begun! All of the instruments have been shipped to the Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) in Logan Utah and integrated into the payload deck, with the Instrument Control Package due for shipment by the end of the month. IVM-B is coming soon as well, closing out the full complement of instruments.

The integration and testing - or I&T - procedures are a vital part of preparing for flight. The instruments have been built all over the country - California, Texas, and Virginia. In order to ensure that they will be able to function together as planned, they are brought together on the Payload Integration Plate (PIP). The PIP, the instruments, and the Instrument Control Package together become the science payload, which will then undergo a series of thorough vibration and thermal tests at SDL over the coming months.

Following I&T, the payload will be shipped from Utah to Orbital ATK in Virginia, where it will be integrated onto the main spacecraft “bus” - the guts of the satellite that controls communication, attitude, and other overall controls. This will happen towards the end of 2016, in preparation for launch in summer 2017.

2016 will be an exciting year for the ICON mission

Claire Raftery 0 1718

2016 will be an exciting year for the ICON mission. This year will see the assembly and test of the complete scientific payload (the collection of instruments and telescopes ICON will carry), the completion of the spacecraft (the main body of the satellite), and when these come together, the assembly and test of the full ICON observatory.

Over the next two months, all of the ICON instruments, the Instrument Control Package (ICP), and other key components will be delivered to the Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) in Utah for integration into the payload. Once integrated into a single payload package, it will undergo specialized vibration and vacuum tests to simulate the conditions of launch and operations on orbit.

Once the payload performance has been confirmed, the payload package will be delivered to Orbital ATK in Virginia, who are building the main body of the spacecraft, called the “bus”. Delivery is planned for mid-year, which will give Orbital ATK ample opportunity to test the entire observatory and prepare it for integration with the Pegasus launch vehicle in Spring of 2017.

Meanwhile, the science team will be busy completing the software needed to download and manipulate the data taken by ICON’s instruments to prepare the data pipeline for receipt of real (rather than simulated) data soon after launch in June of 2017.

Follow the mission’s progress at or on twitter @NASASunEarth

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