NASA Space Weather Satellite Set To Launch Today, Finally

An artist’s concept of the ICON satellite. (Illustration: NASA)

NASA is ready to launch its space weather-measuring satellite today, following two years of delays.

The Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, will measure the highest region of the atmosphere where Earth weather interacts with space weather. Initially scheduled to go up Wednesday, it’s now set to launch Thursday from a Pegasus XL rocket dropped from modified L-1011 carrier plane over the Atlantic Ocean at 9:30 p.m. EST. You can watch a live feed of the launch below beginning at 12:15pm AEST.

ICON will launch with four instruments on board, one for measuring windspeeds and temperatures, one for measuring the motion of ions, and two ultraviolet cameras for observing light from excited ions in the upper atmosphere. Radio signals and GPS satellites travel through this region and could be disrupted by disturbances caused by the ionospheric environment as well as particles from the Sun and from deep space.

This will be one of the most direct measurements of the effects that Earth weather has on the upper ionosphere, Ruth Lieberman, an ICON project scientist at NASA, told Gizmodo. “Earth weather forecasting is a highly developed discipline. By having a better understanding of how much space weather is linked to Earth weather, I hope that we can improve the predictability of space weather.”

This is a long-delayed mission. The satellite was initially slated to launch on a Pegasus XL rocket in 2017, but concern after the rocket was mishandled in its shipping, followed by mission managers wanting to reassess it, pushed it back to 2018. Further issues relating to instruments returning anomalous noise delayed the rocket another 11 months while builder Northrop Grumman tested it and corrected issues. Yesterday’s launch was called off due to weather conditions, and there is a 70 per cent chance it will go forward tonight, Spaceflight Now reports.

We will keep you updated if the beleaguered satellite’s launch schedule changes.

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