NASA Space Weather Satellite Set to Launch Tonight, Finally

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

NASA is ready to launch its space weather-measuring satellite tonight, 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 9:15 p.m. ET.

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 percent chance it will go forward tonight, Spaceflight Now reports.

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

Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds

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Dr Emilio Lizardo

Now I would really like an article on the various launch strategies. Why is it better to launch this from a jumbo jet than the ground? You save yourself the trouble of 30,000 feet (5% of low earth orbit) but i would think you add a lot of complexity.

Please write this, Ryan. I think it is in your wheelhouse.