Orbital To Build Icon Space Weather Satellite For NASA
April 30, 2013

NASA Mission To Study Link Between Space And Terrestrial Weather

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA has awarded a two-year, $50 million contract to Orbital Sciences Corporation to build a new heliophysics science satellite that will investigate the connection between space weather storms in the ionosphere and Earth´s terrestrial weather.

The mission is currently set to launch in 2017, and will study the interface between the upper reaches of the Earth´s atmosphere and outer space in response to a recent scientific discovery that the ionosphere, located at the edge of outer space where the Sun ionizes the air to create charged particles, is significantly influenced by storms in the lower atmosphere.

Orbital will provide its LEOStar-2 spacecraft platform, a flexible, high-performance spacecraft for space and Earth science, remote sensing and other applications. Systems integration and test for the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission will take place at Orbital´s Dulles, VA satellite design and production facilities.

The ICON satellite will also help NASA better understand how atmospheric winds control ionospheric variability.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to support UC Berkeley in this innovative small science mission to improve our understanding of the ionosphere and the critical forecasting of space weather phenomena,” said Mr. Mike Miller, Orbital´s Senior Vice President of Science and Environmental Satellite Programs.

“Our fully developed line of affordable and highly reliable spacecraft, in tandem with UC Berkeley´s outstanding scientific leadership and management capabilities in the Explorer mission class, will enable a compelling and cost effective heliospheric science mission for NASA.”

The ICON mission will also improve forecasts of extreme space weather by probing the variability of Earth´s ionosphere with in-situ and remote-sensing instruments. The findings could provide even benefit commercial aircraft, as GPS signals can be distorted by charged-particle storms in the ionosphere. Fluctuations in the ionosphere can also disrupt satellite and radio communications from low- and geostationary-orbit communications spacecraft.

The ICON program is being led by Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Thomas Immel of the University of California/Berkeley´s Space Sciences Laboratory (UCB/SSL), and mission management will be performed by UCB/SSL under NASA´s Goddard Space Flight Center Explorers program.

The mission also features partners from the Naval Research Laboratory and the University of Texas/Dallas, with Mission Operations performed by the UCB/SSL Mission Operations Center, which is currently operating the Orbital-built and launched NuSTAR astrophysics Small Explorer satellite.