NASA Selects GOLD and ICON Missions

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

NASA has selected two new satellite missions to be built as part of the Heliophysics Explorer Program. The projects will provide space observations to study Earth's ionosphere and thermosphere, and will launch in 2017.

NASA Gold Image
NASA Selects GOLD and ICON Missions

The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, led by Richard Eastes of the University of Central Florida, is an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph that will fly on a commercial communications satellite in geostationary orbit to image the Earth's thermosphere and ionosphere. It will be built at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The Ionospheric Connection (ICON) mission, led by Thomas Immel of the University of California, Berkeley, will probe the variability of Earth's ionosphere in low-Earth orbit, using a combination of remote sensing and in-situ instruments.

The ionosphere and thermosphere regions of the Earth's upper atmosphere are very sensitive to space weather events and space climate, with potential societal impacts. For example, fluctuations in the ionosphere interfere with signals from communications and global positioning satellites. The GOLD and ICON missions will improve our understanding of these effects. "One of the frontier areas of heliophysics is the study of the interface between outer space and the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere," said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science. "The two missions together will result in significantly more advances in our understanding of Earth's atmosphere and ionosphere than either would alone."

The NCAR High Altitude Observatory is providing scientific support and analysis for these missions. Alan Burns is the Project Scientist of the GOLD mission; Stan Solomon and Art Richmond are co-investigators. Astrid Maute is a co-investigator on the ICON mission. Several other HAO scientists will collaborate on model development and data analysis. Together with new ionospheric observations by the second-generation Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC) satellites, these measurements will revolutionize our understanding of near-Earth space.

NASA press release »
GOLD web site »
ICON web site »