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Space Dynamics Lab Cameras Successfully Launched into Ionosphere

October 10, 2019 | Space Dynamics Laboratory

NORTH LOGAN, Utah - NASA has announced the launch of its Ionospheric Connection Explorer. Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory developed the cameras in two of the primary instruments and led the payload integration and test activities for ICON. The two instruments containing SDL cameras are the Michelson Interferometer for Global High-resolution Thermospheric Imaging, and the Far Ultra Violet Imaging Spectrograph, known as MIGHTI and FUV.


ICON was launched on a Pegasus XL rocket from an L-1011 Stargazer aircraft 40,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean at 7:59 p.m. MDT on October 10, 2019, where it was released and free-fell for five seconds before igniting its first-stage rocket motor and placing the science instrument into low Earth orbit.

Led by principal investigator Thomas J. Immel at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, ICON will study the ionosphere – a region of Earth’s upper atmosphere where terrestrial weather meets space weather. The ICON mission seeks to help scientists understand this weather interaction that can cause disruptions in Global Positioning System satellites and radio frequencies.

“The successful launch of ICON illustrates another step forward in understanding how space weather interacts with Earth’s weather ─ a frequent cause of volatile atmospheric conditions in a region of space that can affect satellite and radio signals used by many every day for applications such as agriculture, aviation, recreation, and timing,” said Jed Hancock, executive director of programs and operations at the Space Dynamics Laboratory. “Dr. Immel and his extraordinary team at the Space Sciences Laboratory have done a remarkable job providing an important space-borne science observatory for NASA. We are honored to have been part of the mission.”

MIGHTI will image the atmosphere to measure the high-altitude winds and temperature variations in the atmosphere-space transition region. FUV will measure the density of the ionized gas of the Ionosphere during the nighttime, revealing how the space environment responds to weather events in the lower atmosphere. During the day, it will determine how the chemistry of the upper atmosphere changes, modifying the source for the ionized gas. SDL’s charge-coupled device-based camera systems will provide these instruments with the low-noise imaging performance needed to enable ICON’s groundbreaking observations of the ionosphere – thermosphere system.

“The delivery of HARP continues SDL’s decades-long relationship with NASA building spaceflight hardware that supports their mission to drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality, and stewardship of Earth,” said Alan Thurgood, SDL’s director of Civil and Commercial Space. “For 60 years, the men and women of SDL have succeeded in providing technology with engineering quality and rigor that has enabled scientists to better understand links between Earth’s fundamental processes and the effects that nature and humans have on them.”

Celebrating its sixtieth year, the Space Dynamics Laboratory is headquartered in North Logan, UT, and has offices in Albuquerque, NM; Bedford, MA; Dayton, OH; Huntsville, AL; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; and Washington, D.C. As one of 14 University Affiliated Research Centers, the Space Dynamics Laboratory serves as a trusted advisor of the U.S. government and a strategic Department of Defense research center. For more information, visit www.sdl.usu.edu.