According to latest reports, the launch of a NASA satellite to study the effect and behavior of plasma in Earth’s ionosphere has been postponed to next year owing to a fault in the rocket system. The air-launched Pegasus XL booster was scheduled to carry the NASA ionosphere satellite, but engineers found some issues in the booster’s separation system.

That is why the satellite launch was delayed to give ample time to engineers to rectify the issue. On Nov 3, NASA informed that its Ionospheric Connection Explorer, which was set for Dec 8 launch, has been postponed to next year after managers ordered a delay.

The space probe, known by the acronym ICON, will be lifted off by an L-1011 carrier jet and then it will get detached and will ride an Orbital ATK Pegasus XL launcher which will deploy it into orbit. The L-1011 jet will fall over the Pacific Ocean near the Reagan Test site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Elsayed Talaat, chief scientists of NASA’s heliophysics division, said that the ICON spacecraft itself is healthy and is all set for final pre-launch processing. The satellite, built by Orbital ATK, is in its shipping container at the contractor’s Gilbert, Arizona assembly facility. He further said that last month ICON’s shipment to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for attachment with the Pegasus rocket was delayed due to rising concerns about the launch vehicle bolt cutter assembly reliability. The faulty component is actually used in systems to jettison the Pegasus XL’s payload shroud during its climb into space and then separate the ICON spacecraft once it enters the orbit.

Thomas Immel, ICON’s principal investigator at the University of California, Berkeley, informed that engineers are scrutinizing a part in the rocket’s separation systems, which are unchanged since the Pegasus XL’s last launch in December 2016, when the air-dropped booster successfully placed eight hurricane research satellites in orbit for NASA.

The main aim of ICON is to observe ionosphere, where influences from terrestrial weather patterns meet the space environment. The scientific instruments fitted to it will measure the temperatures and winds high up in the atmosphere and along with that, the changes in the motion and density of ionized gas over time will be studied.


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