On May 1, 2018, NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for the next stage of its journey to launch, scheduled for June 15 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands (in the continental United States the launch date is June 14).
The observatory made the trip overnight from Gilbert, Arizona, where it was in an Orbital ATK facility. At Vandenberg, ICON will be integrated onto a Pegasus XL rocket, which will in turn be flown to Kwajalein on an L-1011 aircraft, which will double as its launcher.
The Ionospheric Connection Explorer will study the frontier of space: the dynamic zone high in our atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather from above. This region of space and its changes have practical repercussions — this is the area through which radio communications and GPS signals travel. Variations there can result in distortions or even complete disruption of signals. In order to understand this complicated region of near-Earth space, called the ionosphere, NASA has developed the ICON mission. ICON will help determine the physical process at play in our space environment and pave the way for mitigating their effects on our technology, communications systems and society.
NASA Goddard manages the Explorer Program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory developed the ICON mission and the two ultraviolet imaging spectrographs onboard (the largest of which was integrated and tested at the Centre Spatial de Liège); the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., developed the MIGHTI instrument; the University of Texas in Dallas developed the Ion Velocity Meter; and the ICON spacecraft was built by Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia. NASA’s Launch Services Program is responsible for launch management.
Photo credit: NASA