ICON and GOLD Missions Team Up to Get a Closer Look at the Earth’s Space Environment


The Earth’s atmosphere up above the sky gives way to space. The earth’s atmosphere called ionosphere is what serves as the boundary between earth and the unending space. Many things affect the ionosphere, the changes based on the weather of the space above and the weather of the Earth below.

The changes that happen in ionosphere have the potential of harming astronauts, to interrupt communications, as well as GPS signals, and creating Earth-affecting phenomena, such as an aurora. Many of the ionosphere changes are not well understood.

This leaves the region well shrouded in mystery. The changes in the ionosphere could be dangerous to astronauts trying to understand the universe better. This makes it highly important to take a closer look and understand the ionosphere fully.

ICON and GOLD Missions to Launch

To understand Earth’s outer atmosphere better, two NASA missions are being launched. The missions are the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) and Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON). Both will work on uncovering the secrets and provide a comprehensive view of the ionosphere.

ICON’s target is to find out how terrestrial weather affects ionosphere by positioning 350 miles above Earth. On the other hand, GOLD will provide a broader view of the planet coming from 22,000 miles above.

It will make observations in a global-scale collected every 30 minutes. GOLD is poised to gather observations even more frequent than any other ionospheric mission before. It is a long-standing thought that the Sun’s activity affects the changes in the ionosphere.

However, recent studies show that the weather dynamics of the planet also play a role in this. The Earth’s weather such as different wind patterns can affect the atmosphere and ionosphere. Scientists are eager to understand how weather dynamics affect the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The only thing scientists know is the ionosphere shows an extraordinary difference every hour in every day. What they do not know is the cause of the changes and the variability acting on the ionosphere. This is what the space missions GOLD and ICON strives to understand.

ICON’s focus is to understand if the changes in the ionosphere can be explained by the weather close to Earth’s surface. ICON’s launch is expected this year where it will fly across the upper atmosphere. As it travels through space, it will collect information about the space and observe the lower ionosphere.

GOLD, on the other hand, launched last January 25 onboard the SES-14. To gather information about ionosphere, GOLD follows how weather satellites work. From a distance, it images ionosphere the same way that weather satellites capture images of the lower atmosphere of the whole planet.