NASA to launch GOLD, ICON Missions to explore nearest space

Jan 6, 2018 09:33 IST
NASA to launch GOLD, ICON Missions to explore nearest space

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on 4 January 2018 announced to launch two missions to explore 60 miles (96 KM) of area above Earth's surface.

The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission will be launched aboard a commercial communications satellite in January 2018 itself, while the other mission Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) will be launched later in 2018.

What is expected out of GOLD and ICON Missions?
• Once both the missions will be launched, GOLD and ICON will team up to explore the ionosphere, a boundary area between Earth and the space which features sea of electrically-charged electrons and ions and strong Sun radiations.

• These layers of near-Earth space are increasingly becoming a part of human domain as it is home to radio signals which is used to guide airplanes, ships and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites.

• These two missions are complementary in nature. ICON mission will move in low-Earth orbit at 350 miles (560 km) above Earth, will fly through and just above the ionosphere, like a close-up camera.

• While, GOLD mission will run in geostationary orbit over the Western Hemisphere 22000 miles (about 35398 km) above the planet's surface. It will build up a full-disk view of the ionosphere and the upper atmosphere in every half hour.

• GOLD and ICON will cooperate with each other when ICON will pass through GOLD's field of view and each mission will get a snapshot of the same region.

• This overlap of data will make it easier to identify what caused a certain change to the upper atmosphere at a given time.

• Both the missions will also measure how upper atmosphere changes in response to hurricanes and geomagnetic storms.

• Moreover, it is expected that the missions will scientists find evidences for a theoretical model about El Nino's repercussions on the ionosphere.

Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) Mission
• It will focus on observing what drives change- Sun, Earth's magnetic field and the lower atmosphere in the upper atmosphere.

• GOLD mission will explore how the upper atmosphere reacts to geomagnetic storms, which are temporary disturbances of Earth's magnetic field due to solar activity.

• At night-time, GOLD will examine disruptions in the ionosphere, which are dense, unpredictable bubbles of charged gas that appear over the equator and tropics and interfere with radio communications.

Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) Mission
• ICON will concentrate on how charged and neutral gases in the upper atmosphere behave and interact.

• ICON was particularly designed to study forces like neutral winds, pressure gradients and solar activity individually, making it easier for scientists to elucidate cause-and-effect relationships.

ICON and GOLD join TIMED mission
Once both the missions will begin their journey, they will join a small fleet of spacecraft that study space surrounding Earth and other planets to the farthest limits of the Sun’s solar wind. Both the missions will complement third mission in the fleet- TIMED Mission.

The 16-year-old Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) was launched in 2001. It doesn't carry all the necessary instruments to analyze the motion of the particles in the upper atmosphere that ICON and GOLD bring to the effort.

Together these three missions will provide key information about how Earth’s upper atmosphere connects to the dynamic and complex system of space that fills the solar system.

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