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NASA awards $200-mn for next space weather satellite

US: NASA has awarded the University of California, Berkeley, up to $200 million to build a satellite to determine how Earth’s weather affects weather at the edge of space, in hopes of improving forecasts of extreme “space weather” that can disrupt GPS and radio communications.

The satellite mission, called the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON), will be designed, built and operated by scientists at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. Scheduled for launch in 2017, ICON will orbit 550 kilometers (345 miles) above Earth in the ionosphere: the edge of space where the sun ionizes the air to create constantly shifting streams and sheets of charged particles. These charged particles can interfere with GPS signals and radio signals that travel through and bounce off the ionosphere.

ICON will collect data needed to establish the connection between storms that occur near Earth’s surface and space-weather storms, allowing scientists to better predict space weather. These results could help airliners, for example, which today cannot rely solely on GPS satellites to fly and land because signals from these satellites can be distorted by charged-particle storms in the ionosphere.

Source: UC Berkley