Northrop Grumman Corporation announced its Pegasus XL air-launched rocket successfully launched the company-built Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite for NASA.
The launch marked the 44th overall flight of the world’s first privately-developed commercial space launch vehicle, and ICON marks the ninth science satellite to be both built and launched by the company for NASA.
The first phase of the launch was aboard Northrop Grumman’s “Stargazer” L-1011 carrier aircraft. Shortly after release from Stargazer, Pegasus ignited, carrying ICON to its intended 575-kilometer orbit.
“We are proud to have another successful launch of Pegasus,” said Rich Straka, vice president, launch vehicles, Northrop Grumman. “Today’s launch is a testament to the team’s expertise and determination to provide our customer with mission success.”
NASA’s ICON satellite will study the frontier of space – the dynamic zone high in Earth’s atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather above. Northrop Grumman designed and manufactured the spacecraft for ICON at its Dulles satellite manufacturing facility, and tested and verified the spacecraft at the company’s location in Gilbert, Arizona. The satellite is based on the company’s LEOStar-2™ bus, a flight-proven and flexible satellite platform that accommodates a wide variety of missions.
“Our initial data shows the spacecraft is in good health and performing as expected,” said Steve Krein, vice president, civil and commercial satellites, Northrop Grumman. “The successful launch of ICON continues to demonstrate Northrop Grumman’s legacy of delivering innovative space science missions for NASA. ICON marks the latest in a long line of scientific spacecraft we have developed and built for NASA over the last 35 years.”
ICON will help determine the physics of Earth’s space environment and pave the way for mitigating its effects on technology, communications systems and society. Northrop Grumman has previously built multiple explorer satellites buses for NASA, including the NuSTAR, Swift, GALEX, AIM and IBEX spacecraft. Northrop Grumman is also currently manufacturing the Landsat-9 and JPSS-2 spacecraft for NASA. Both satellites use the company’s larger LEOStar-3™ bus.
As an air-launched system, Pegasus has unparalleled flexibility to operate from virtually anywhere on Earth with minimal ground support requirements. In fact, Pegasus missions have launched from five separate sites in the U.S., Europe and the Marshall Islands. Pegasus is the leading launch system for the deployment of small satellites into low earth orbit. As the only NASA Category 3 vehicle in the small-launch class, Pegasus is certified to launch NASA’s most valuable small satellites.