Author Topic: Orbital selected by NASA to build ICON space weather satellite  (Read 1308 times)

Offline jacqmans

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-- Company Joins University of California/Berkeley as Industrial Partner
for New Heliophysics Satellite Mission --

-- Orbital Wins Second NASA Explorer Series Satellite Following Recent
Selection for TESS Astrophysics Mission --

(Dulles, VA 29 April 2013) – Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB), one
of the world’s leading space technology companies, announced today that it
has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) to design, manufacture, integrate and test a new heliophysics
science satellite that will investigate the connection between space
weather storms in the ionosphere, located at the edge of outer space, and
Earth’s terrestrial weather.  Orbital will provide its LEOStar-2 spacecraft
platform and conduct systems integration and test for the Ionospheric
Connection Explorer (ICON) mission at its Dulles, VA satellite design and
production facilities.  Orbital’s contract for the two-year mission is
valued at $50 million.  The mission, which will be led by the University of
California at Berkeley, is currently planned for launch in 2017.

The mission of the ICON satellite is to study the interface between the
upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space in response to a
recent scientific discovery that the ionosphere, positioned at the edge of
space where the Sun ionizes the air to create charged particles, is
significantly influenced by storms in the lower atmosphere.  ICON will also
help NASA better understand how atmospheric winds control ionospheric

“We are excited to have the opportunity to support UC Berkeley in this
innovative small science mission to improve our understanding of the
ionosphere and the critical forecasting of space weather phenomena,” said
Mr. Mike Miller, Orbital’s Senior Vice President of Science and
Environmental Satellite Programs.  “Our fully developed line of affordable
and highly reliable spacecraft, in tandem with UC Berkeley’s outstanding
scientific leadership and management capabilities in the Explorer mission
class, will enable a compelling and cost effective heliospheric science
mission for NASA.”

The mission, chosen for its scientific value and low-risk development plan,
will improve the forecasts of extreme space weather by probing the
variability of Earth’s ionosphere with in-situ and remote-sensing
instruments.  Fluctuations in the ionosphere can disrupt satellite and
radio communications from low- and geostationary-orbit communications
spacecraft, creating a direct impact on the nation’s economy.  The
scientific findings resulting from the ICON mission could, for example,
benefit commercial aircraft, as GPS signals can be distorted by
charged-particle storms in the ionosphere.

ICON was awarded under NASA’s Explorer series of lower-cost and
highly-productive space science satellites.  Orbital has built multiple
Explorer satellites for NASA, including the in-orbit NuSTAR, Swift, GALEX,
AIM and IBEX spacecraft.  In addition, Orbital was recently awarded a $75
million contract to design, build, integrate and test, as well as to
perform mission operations, for another Explorer satellite, the Transiting
Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

The ICON program is being led by Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Thomas
Immel of the University of California/Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory
(UCB/SSL) and mission management is performed by UCB/SSL under NASA’s
Goddard Space Flight Center Explorers program.  The PI-led ICON mission
features partners from the Naval Research Laboratory and the University of
Texas/Dallas.  Mission Operations will be performed by the UCB/SSL Mission
Operations Center, which is currently operating the Orbital-built and
launched NuSTAR astrophysics Small Explorer satellite.

The ICON mission will rely on Orbital’s LEOStar-2 platform, a flexible,
high-performance spacecraft for space and Earth science, remote sensing and
other applications.  The LEOStar-2 series of spacecraft have supported
multiple missions for commercial and government customers over the past 15
years.  The current LEOStar-2 product line has demonstrated an exceptional
record for reliability, with four currently in orbit, another in
production, and the TESS and ICON programs to be started later this year.

About NASA’s Explorer Program
The Explorer program is the oldest continuous scientific satellite program
at NASA.  It is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space
using PI-led space science investigations relevant to the agency’s
astrophysics and heliophysics programs.  Initiated with the Explorer 1
satellite launch in 1958 that discovered the Earth’s radiation belts, and
including the Cosmic Background Explorer mission that led to Nobel prizes
for their investigators, the Explorer program has launched more than 90
missions over the last 50 years.  It is managed by Goddard for NASA’s
Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC.