You Can Watch a Plane Drop a Rocket to Launch a NASA's ICON Space Weather Mission Tonight
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NASA hopes that the long-delayed launch of a space weather mission called ICON will finally occur tonight (Oct. 9) — but terrestrial weather concerns may scrub the flight.
The mission, formally known as the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, isn't boarding any old rocket: The spacecraft is packed up on a rocket tucked into an airplane. The plane will take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, climb to an altitude of more than 39,000 feet (nearly 12 kilometers), and, around 9:25 p.m. EDT (0030 GMT on Oct. 10) drop the rocket and begin the launch procedure.
You can watch the launch on Space.com courtesy of NASA TV or directly through NASA's website beginning at 9:15 p.m. EDT (0015 GMT on Oct. 10). The launch window will last about 90 minutes; if the spacecraft isn't deployed during that time frame, similar opportunities are available on Thursday and Friday (Oct. 10 and 11).
if all goes well, the ICON spacecraft will give scientists a new look at one of the most mysterious regions of Earth's atmosphere, where traditional weather and space weather interact. Space weather reflects the environment around Earth and can be affected by, for example, massive bursts of radiation or plasma from the sun.
"The ionosphere is continually changing, and it's very, very dynamic," Nicola Fox, head of NASA's Heliophysics Division, under which this mission falls, said of the ionosphere during a press conference held yesterday (Oct. 8). "It's a place that really interesting physics is going on, it's kind of like having a plasma lab in our backyard: Just a few hundred miles up and we get to that lab."
Space weather is a key research area for NASA because the phenomena it encompasses can interfere with satellite operations and pose a danger to astronauts exploring beyond Earth. The more thoroughly scientists can understand space weather and its effects, the more accurately they can predict changes in these phenomena, which in turn can keep satellites and astronauts safer.