After years of delay and repeated postponed launches, NASA has finally launched its Ionospheric Connection Explorer popularly called the ICON spacecraft. The spacecraft which was carried by the Northrop Grumman aircraft, strapped to a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket was deployed at an altitude of 39,000 feet.
On October 10, 2019, the carrier plane dropped the fridge-sized spacecraft, and it had already deployed its solar panels. It should be noted that the ICON spacecraft is exclusively designed to conduct studies on the ionosphere, the boundary between the earth and space.
The ionosphere is a region in the upper atmosphere of the earth where the earth's atmosphere from below gets bombarded with the space weather from above.
Experts believe that learning more about this region could help to know extensively about the radiation risks astronauts may suffer during the space journeys. The data that will be sent back by the mission could also help scientists to figure out how ionospheric interference that affects communication signals can be effectively managed.
"ICON will be the first mission to simultaneously track what's happening in Earth's upper atmosphere and in space to see how the two interacts, causing the kind of changes that can disrupt our communications systems," said Nicola Fox, director of Heliophysics at NASA, Engadget reports.
Even though the mission was postponed and delayed several times, NASA believes that the ICON mission is pretty much vital, and this spacecraft is the only way available now to learn about that particular region of the earth's atmosphere as ionosphere is too low for other spacecraft and it is too high for balloons.
Interestingly, the new mission was launched by NASA just a few days after two graduate students proposed the idea of building a space elevator that will connect earth and the moon, to supply cargo up and down. After analyzing the plan to make this monumental structure, experts believed that the structure can be built with current technology.
Learning more about the ionosphere using ICON spacecraft could help scientists to understand why the weather in the ionosphere is eroding spacecraft, and it will in turn benefit experts to build a space elevator that could withstand all kinds of temperature and harsh weather.