October 11, 2019.

We are excited to report that NASA’s Ionospheric CONnection Explorer (ICON) mission successfully launched last night and is now in orbit. During the first pass of the Northrop Grumman L-1011 Stargazer through the launch zone, the Pegasus XL drop was aborted; they circled around and on the next lap the launch was successful. All three Pegasus rocket stages performed nominally, and the ICON satellite ultimately separated and is now circling Earth on its mission to study the frontier of space. Read NASA’s press release here.

Artist’s concept of ICON satellite in orbit. Credit: NASA

Led by University of California Berkeley and PI Thomas Immel with support from Stellar, ICON is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and will help us learn more about the dynamic zone called the ionosphere, high in our atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather above, or “our interface to space”.

ICON carries four instruments to collect images of the ionosphere and directly measure characteristics of the space environment. This region of space is a critical part of how we transmit and receive data, and its fluctuations can distort and disrupt those signals with catastrophic effects. Much remains to be learned about the ionosphere’s makeup, behavior, and variability due to external influences, and the ICON spacecraft will be the first to study how the space environment is connected to conditions in our atmosphere and weather.

Stellar has supported UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory in the planning and implementation of this mission during all phases. ICON is a science mission, but there is a lot of engineering going on behind the scenes to make it all happen, and that’s where Stellar Solutions comes in – providing key mission, systems, thermal, and instrument engineering expertise to our partners.

A number of Stellar personnel who have supported this mission over the years are noted below:

  • Carl Yanari is currently supporting ICON as a Senior Thermal SE, as well as providing launch support and commissioning.
  • Brett Stroozas (advisor) is Ops Readiness Director, preparing and running rehearsals and other readiness exercises.
  • Mike DeKlotz previously served as Verification Lead and helped with ops readiness.
  • Jeff Lynn (now a customer) was previously Deputy PM for one of the science instruments.
  • Several other Stellar advisers served on ICON’s Internal Review Board.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured this visual of the aurora borealis aboard the International Space Station in August 2015. Three of ICON’s instruments rely on colorful bands in the upper atmosphere called airglow. It is the result of a similar process as the aurora – the sun’s radiation excites gas that then emits light.

A highlight of our “stellar” support is Carl Yanari who is part of Stellar’s Civil Programs team at NASA Goddard. With over 33 years of industry experience on a variety of spacecraft and instruments, he provides thermal engineering subject matter expertise for ICON, and is responsible for the overall thermal design concept, analyses, testing, implementation, and performance of the instruments and spacecraft. ICON’s unique orbit causes each side of the observatory to be illuminated by the sun at various points during the mission. This is a major challenge as the environment continually changes from hot to cold and back–but due to Carl’s exemplary support, the  thermal design will protect the hardware and ensure that the mission goals are met.

The systems and instruments Stellar has helped develop will enable scientists around the country to tackle issues affecting our way of living on Earth and in space, including human spaceflight and defense as well as the airline and telecommunications industries.

Congratulations and thanks again to Carl and our partners for a successful launch!