Postcards from the Edge of Space: Scientists Present New Ionosphere Images and Science at AGU

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[NASA Feature by Lina Tran] In a Dec. 10 press event at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, three scientists presented new images of the ionosphere, the dynamic region where Earth’s atmosphere meets space. Home to astronauts and everyday technology like radio and GPS, the ionosphere constantly responds to changes from space above and Earth below.

The collection of images presented include the first images from NASA’s ICON, new science results from NASA’s GOLD, and observations of a fleeting, never-before-studied aurora. Together, they bring color to invisible processes that have widespread implications for the part of space that is closest to home.

ICON post-launch status

Two weeks out, the observatory is performing well

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As of today, ICON has been in space for two weeks since its launch from Cape Canaveral on October 10, 2019, and we’re pleased to report that the observatory is performing well.  

Here in the UCB Mission Operations Center, ICON’s commissioning has started, and all spacecraft functions—such as power generation, thermal and pointing control and maneuvering—have been successfully tested. We’re learning some things you can only learn on orbit, but the Northrop Grumman spacecraft seems to be in great shape and ready for science. The commissioning of ICON’s four instruments has started and will continue through November. All instruments have been turned on electrically and checked out. Two of the four instruments, IVM and MIGHTI, even received their first data. The MIGHTI instrument looks to be operating perfectly, producing interferograms that are exactly as we hoped. The other two instruments, EUV and FUV, will open their doors around Halloween, and then the high voltage will be ramped up. We’re working all day, but the observatory is monitored around the clock by flight controllers and engineers.

More news articles about ICON launch

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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.

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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