DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — On its second attempt Thursday night, the Pegasus rocket launched with the ICON satellite from an airborne rocket — dozens of miles off the coast of Daytona Beach.
- ICON satellite will study ionosphere, which disputes signals
- Learn more about the ICON satellite here
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The launch of a Pegasus rocket took place on Northrop Grumman's Stargazer plane. NASA's ICON satellite will study the Earth's ionosphere.
The specialized plane soared to 39,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean to what is called the "dropbox," a 40-mile-long area, 50 to 100 miles out.
"It's a great platform, because have the flexibility to launch anywhere in the world, meet any customer's orbit requirements," Pegasus Operations Manager Eric Denbrook said.
Seconds later, the rocket soared into orbit and deployed the satellite, which will study where Earth and space weather meet.
Once in orbit some 360 miles up, the satellite will scan the ionosphere, an area filled with constantly changing solar winds, weather, and charged gas known as plasma. The ionosphere is volatile, disrupting satellites and navigation signals that are used to guide airplanes, boats, even self-driving cars. It's also where GPS communications can be disrupted on Earth.
Scientists hope the data it gathers helps improve forecasting for large and potentially severe weather systems.
"It's also the weather we experience here on Earth, those hurricanes, tornadoes, those big weather systems that are actually forcing up from below and then meeting this space weather coming in from above it," said Nicky Fox with NASA's Heliophysics. "It's this mixing region, where these two weather systems — space weather and terrestrial weather — are mixing together."
NASA's ICON satellite is designed to study the changes in the ionosphere that could help us eventually predict those changes, and better protect our astronauts and satellites in space.
NASA had been anxiously waiting for this launch for two years now after several technical delays.
ICON is set for a two-year science mission.