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NASA’s Long-Delayed ICON Mission Set For Unconventional Launch Off Daytona Beach Coast

Northrop Grumman's Pegasus rocket hitches a ride to space on the belly of an airplane. Photo: Northrop Grumman

Update 3:06 p.m.: Weather has delayed the first launch attempt Wednesday night. NASA will attempt to launch the payload Thursday night. 

An unconventional launch is now scheduled Thursday evening off the coast of Daytona Beach after a 24-hour weather delay. NASA is aiming to send up a spacecraft to study weather at the edge of space.

The spacecraft called ICON will hitch a ride beneath an airplane. At 39,000 feet,  the Pegasus rocket carrying the satellite will drop from the plane’s belly and launch the spacecraft into space.

Once in soace, the mission will study the planet’s ionosphere, where terrestrial and space weather meet. “The ionosphere is where we see aurora,” said NASA’s Nicky Fox. “Aurora is one big sign that space weather is happening.”

The ionosphere affects radio and satellite signals that make way for communications and GPS navigation. “This ionosphere is continually changing and it is very, very dynamic. That can have a big impact on our ability to do this type of communication,” she said.

The mission has been delayed since 2017 because of issues with the rocket’s navigation instruments. Wednesday’s attempt was scrubbed. NASA has another opportunity to launch the Pegasus rocket Thursday. 

NASA TV will air coverage of the launch attempt starting at 9:15 p.m. ET.  

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Intersection' Producer

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts "Are We There Yet?", WMFE's space exploration podcast He also helps produce WMFE's twice-weekly public affairs show "Intersection," working with host Matthew Peddie to shape the ... Read Full Bio »