NASA Rocket, Satellite Tag-Team to View the Giant Electric Current in the Sky

Mission launch timed as ICON passes nearby to compare perspectives on dynamo

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by Miles Hatfield, NASA —The Dynamo-2 sounding rocket mission will launch two rockets coordinated with the passing of the ICON satellite overhead to study a churning electric current in the upper atmosphere. The mission is just the latest in a centuries-long quest to understand the atmospheric dynamo, beginning with Michael Faraday’s invention of the electric generator.

Some 50 miles up, where Earth’s atmosphere blends into space, the air itself hums with an electric current. Scientists call it the atmospheric dynamo, an Earth-sized electric generator. It’s taken hundreds of years for scientists to lay the groundwork to understand it, but the principles that keep it running are only just now being revealed in detail. 

Following up on its predecessor’s 2013 flight, the Dynamos, Winds, and Electric Fields in the Daytime Lower Ionosphere-2, or Dynamo-2, sounding rocket mission will soon pierce the atmospheric winds thought to keep the dynamo churning. With the sounding rocket’s launch timed as NASA’s ICON (Ionospheric Connection Explorer) satellite passes nearby, these two space missions will combine their perspectives to advance our understanding of the giant electric circuit in the sky.

What does the MIGHTI instrument do?

What is an interferometer? What will MIGHTI be investigating in Earth's upper atmosphere?

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ICON carries four different instruments to explore Earth's upper atmosphere. The MIGHTI instrument, an example of an interferometer, looks at winds and temperatures in the ionosphere. In this video,  Drs. John Harlander and Chris Englert explain what an interferometer is and what MIGHTI will be investigating.

"The atmosphere naturally just glows at those altitudes, more during the day and less during the night...and by just looking at the color of this airglow, we can find out about the wind and the temperature. So the atmosphere... is helping us to understand how it is behaving by sending out this airglow. If we build the right instruments to look at particular aspects of the color of the airglow, we can get information that we want."
—  Dr. Chris Englert, MIGHTI instrument lead

Utah State's Space Lab Plays Large Role in Latest Satellite

ICON Will Improve Understanding of Upper Atmosphere - 'No Man's Land'

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SURAE CHINN, LOGAN, UTAH (GOOD4UTAH) --When it comes to space exploration, the Space Dynamics Lab at Utah State University plays a big role. 
 
The newest addition to NASA's fleet of satellites is supposed to improve our understanding of weather tracking and GPS communication. 
 
Scientists know very little about the upper atmosphere, 60 miles above ground where atmosphere ends and space begins. But ICON or Ionospheric Connection Explorer hopes to change that.  The payload will be part of NASA's mission into space.  
 
It took engineers tens of thousand of man hours to build the real thing, with the final integration and testing done right here in Logan.
 
ICON that will hopefully unravel the mystery of this so called 'no mans land.'
 
Dr. Jed Hancock, Director of Civil Space Division of SDL 'this will tell scientist how weather on earth affects weather in space. This is important because a lot of the systems that we rely on every day life like GPS rely on atmosphere and the ionosphere."
 
The U.C. Berkeley-led team is in charge of the NASA funded mission along with engineers and scientists across the globe.
 

Excitement Building for September “GEOGOLDICON” Collaborative Meeting on Space Weather

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AN NSF-supported meeting at the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder CO at the end of September is drawing participants from around the globe. Over 80 participants -- and counting -- have registered for the GEOGOLDICON conference bringing together satellite and ground-based missions exploring Earth’s near-space environment, as well as others interested in observation and analysis opportunities. (The name comes from the combination of ICON and GOLD missions and NSF Geospace). Collaborations forged at the meeting will allow leverage of each other’s work and broad participation in the investigation of long-standing mysteries and challenges, such as what effect Earth’s weather has on space weather.  The meeting is free and the invitation extended to the solar, heliospheric, magnetospheric and atmospheric communities.

Read more about the GEOGOLDICON conference.

You can also read ICON’s submitted papers.

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

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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.

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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