A weather instrument with St. Cloud State ties awaits a launch date aboard NASA’s ICON satellite.
“The Northrop Grumman/NASA team continues its investigation into the off-nominal data observed during the Nov. 7 launch attempt. Once the analysis is complete, a new launch date will be determined. ICON will launch out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The ICON spacecraft, which uses Northrop Grumman’s LEOStar-2 platform, is monitored at all times and remains healthy,” according to a NASA blog update.
The weather instrument — called MIGHTI — was designed, fabricated and tested by emeritus physics professor John Harlander, in collaboration with his St. Cloud State students and other scientists.
MIGHTI — Michelson Interferometer for Global High-Resolution Thermospheric Imaging — is one of four instruments aboard the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON).
ICON is tasked with studying the little-understood region where planetary weather and space weather meet.
The ionosphere is a layer of upper atmosphere that extends about 50-360 miles above Earth’s surface. It is noted for its high concentration of ions and free electrons and its ability to reflect radio waves.
ICON is a collaboration of federal agencies and American universities, coordinated by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which is northeast of Washington D.C.
Harlander is part of a seven-scientist MIGHTI team.
Among the students who worked on MIGHTI are Maria Gaffney ’15 and Alex Griswold ’14. They teamed with Russ Lidberg of St. Cloud State’s Center for Microscopic Imagining and Analysis to test and improve diffraction gratings, the optical elements that split and bend light. The gratings were then fabricated by Bach Research, Boulder, Colorado.
Launch of the ICON was scratched in December 2017 and again in June 2018. In both cases, engineers identified problems with the Pegasus XL rocket, according to NASA officials.
Those launches were scheduled for the Reagan Test Site in the Kwajalein Atoll, 2,100 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii.
The mission is now at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, an hour east of Orlando, Florida. The 600-pound ICON is mounted to the forward end of a Pegasus rocket underneath the belly of an L-1011 carrier jet. The air-launch is expected to put the ICON into orbit 357 miles above Earth’s surface.
Developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation, the Pegasus rocket is now owned by Northrup Grumman.
The MIGHTI instrument is descended from SHIMMER (Spatial Heterodyne Imager for Mesospheric Radicals), an instrument family Harlander helped design.
SHIMMER instruments flew on the Shuttle Atlantis in 2002 and orbited in a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory satellite launched in 2007.
Among the inventions bearing Harlander’s name are U.S. patents for spatial heterodyne spectrometer and method and Doppler asymmetric spatial heterodyne spectroscopy.