ICON’s mission to the ionosphere begins with beautiful fall launch

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[Robert Sanders, Berkeley News, October 10, 2019] At 9:59 p.m. EDT this evening, Thursday, Oct. 10, NASA launched the Ionospheric Connection, or ICON, mission, putting into orbit a satellite built largely at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory to explore the dynamic region where Earth meets space, the ionosphere.

The mission is the first dedicated to studying how terrestrial weather can help drive space weather above, in the region where our upper atmosphere overlaps with the lowest reaches of space – a dynamic region where changes can disrupt radio, cell phone, and GPS communications used to guide airplanes and ships.

While all went smoothly at the launch site over the Atlantic, mission control at the Space Sciences Laboratory had to contend with a power outage instituted by the local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, to prevent predicted high winds from sparking fires in the surrounding Berkeley hills. The campus’s cogeneration plant supplied the needed power to track the satellite during its initial passes over California.

“It was like watching a choreographed performance turn into a jazz improvisation as problems come up and the individual team members solved them in real time feeding off one another’s talent and energy,” said astronomer Steve Beckwith, director of the lab.

NASA Spacecraft Launches on Mission to Explore Frontier of Space

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[NASA press release] After successfully launching Thursday night, NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) spacecraft is in orbit for a first-of-its-kind mission to study a region of space where changes can disrupt communications and satellite orbits, and even increase radiation risks to astronauts.

A Northrop Grumman Stargazer L-1011 aircraft took off at 8:31 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying ICON, on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket, to launch altitude of about 39,000 feet. The first launch opportunity around 9:30 was skipped due to communication issues between the ground team at Cape Canaveral and the aircraft. On the second attempt, the aircraft crew released its payload at 9:59 p.m. EDT and automated systems on the Pegasus rocket launched ICON, a spacecraft roughly the size of a refrigerator, into space.

The spacecraft’s solar panels successfully deployed, indicating it has power with all systems operating. After an approximately month-long commissioning period, ICON will begin sending back its first science data in November.

ICON Launch Now Targeted for Oct. 10

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NASA has announced that, due to current and expected weather conditions, they are delaying the ICON launch attempt by 24 hours. Primary drop time is now Thursday October 10th, 9:30PM Eastern; the range will make Friday October 11th, same time, available as a backup.

ICON Launch Now Targeted for Oct. 9

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NASA and Northrop Grumman coordinated with the U.S. Air Force Eastern Range for an earlier launch date for the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. ICON is now targeted for launch on Oct. 9, 2019, aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket carried by the company’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft.

ICON Launch Targeted for Oct. 10

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NASA and Northrop Grumman currently are preparing the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, spacecraft and the Pegasus XL rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for ferry to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft on Oct. 1, 2019. The launch has been rescheduled to Oct. 10, 2019, following the completion of a joint NASA/Northrop Grumman investigation into a Pegasus sensor reading that was not within normal limits during previous ferry and launch attempt flights.
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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