From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : ICON explorer
Mains level : Significance of the mission
- NASA has launched a satellite to explore the mysterious, dynamic region where air meets space.
Ionospheric Connection Explorer
- The satellite — called ICON, short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer — rocketed into orbit following a two-year delay.
- The refrigerator-size ICON satellite will study the airglow formed from gases in the ionosphere and also measure the charged environment right around the spacecraft which is at a level of 580 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.
- The ionosphere is the charged part of the upper atmosphere extending several hundred miles (kilometers) up.
- It’s in constant flux as space weather bombards it from above and Earth weather from below, sometimes disrupting radio communications.
Why study Ionosphere?
- There’s too much going on in this region to be caused by just the sun.
- Hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather conditions on Earth are also adding energy.
- The more scientists know the better spacecraft and astronauts can be protected in orbit through improved forecasting.
- A NASA satellite launched last year, Gold, is also studying the upper atmosphere, but from much higher up.