NASA orders up new satellite from UC Berkeley

NASA is busting out their checkbook and placing bets on UC Berkeley. The agency announced they will pay up to $200 million for the University to build a new satellite that can determine how Earth’s weather affects weather in space.

The satellite, known as the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, is set to be created and operated by scientists at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. NASA is hoping to launch the satellite by 2017, leaving it to orbit 345 miles above Earth at the edge of space.

The satellite will collect data to help scientists better predict weather in space. It will be located in an area of space where the sun ionizes the air, creating a wave of charged particles that can interfere with GPS and radio signals.

If scientists are successful, the results can help airplanes better use GPS satellites.

Thomas Immel, the project’s principal investigator and a senior fellow at the Space Sciences Laboratory said:

“Ten years ago, we had no idea that the ionosphere was affected and structured by storms in the lower atmosphere. We proposed ICON in response to this new realization.”

Also last week, NASA announced a new mission called the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk. It will create a special imaging instrument to fly on a commercial communications satellite in order to  image the Earth’s thermosphere and ionosphere.

John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C., said in a statement:

“The two missions together will result in significantly more advances in our understanding of Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere than either would alone.”

The new ICON satellite will join several others —  THEMIS, ARTEMIS, RHESSI, NuSTAR and all NASA Explorer missions — controlled by UC Berkeley’s Mission Operations Center at the Space Sciences Laboratory.