First ICON Science Data Released to Public

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[by Lina Tran on the NASA blog] On June 22, NASA’s ICON team released scientific data collected during the spacecraft’s first eight months in orbit to the public.

The data release features observations from ICON’s four instruments — MIGHTI, FUV, EUV, and IVM — which have been observing the ins and outs of the ionosphere, the sea of charged particles high in the upper atmosphere. Scientists have been busy parsing the wealth of observations collected by ICON in preparation for the mission’s first science results, which will be released later this year.

“ICON was designed, built, and launched to provide data we had never seen before, and it has not disappointed us in any regard,” said Thomas Immel, ICON principal investigator at University of California, Berkeley. Immel said he was pleased to share ICON’s first data with the world. “The sensitivity and precision of our observations, and the unique orbit and mission design, give us a new and advanced tool for unlocking all the puzzling questions we have had about the connection between Earth’s atmosphere and our space environment.”

The release coincides with the virtual summer meeting of CEDAR, the Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions program. The newly released data spans measurements made since the mission’s launch on Oct. 10, 2019. Data can be accessed through University of California Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab.

Newly-Launched ICON Observatory Sees the December 2019 Eclipse

What happens when airglow is temporarily “turned off”?

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Just over six weeks after launch and early calibrations, NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission was presented with a unique opportunity. ICON flew very close to the December 26 solar eclipse track that extended across Asia, and observed the major changes in upper atmospheric airglow that naturally occurred. ICON’s four instruments, primed to look at the ionosphere, the dynamic region where Earth meets space, were in position to observe the effects. What happens when airglow –the natural glow of Earth’s atmosphere caused by solar radiation – is temporarily “turned off” when the sun is blocked by the moon’s shadow for a few minutes? Preliminary data shows that all four instruments – MIGHTI, EUV, FUV and IVM – were able to see changes the eclipse wrought.

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.

2016 will be an exciting year for the ICON mission

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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 http://icon.ssl.berkeley.edu/News/Blog or on twitter @NASASunEarth

IVM Starts Final Functional and Environmental Testing

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The first of two IVMs, which is designated IVM-A based on its location on the spacecraft (facing forward), started End Item Testing (EIT) this week. The EIT is a thorough functional checkout including calibration over temperature and serves as the entry point baseline for environmental testing. Environmental testing will include EMI/EMC, Vibration and Thermal Vacuum testing which simulate the launch and flight environments as closely as possible. Testing will be completed in about eight weeks. 

While the IVM enjoys many years of heritage, the ICON IVM has improvements and modifications that will produce measurements of the plasma drift with unprecedented sensitivity to achieve the ICON science goals. 

The second IVM (IVM-B) fabrication is following closely behind IVM-A and is in the final phases of test and assembly. IVM-B faces in the aft direction on the spacecraft during normal operations, when the remote sensing optical instruments view the northern hemisphere. However, it will be activated during operations when the spacecraft is rotated to allow the optical instruments to view the southern hemisphere.

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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