The ionosphere is a layer of the Earth's upper atmosphere, ranging from 85 to 600 km. From the point of view of the earth, it has many important effects as the edge of space. Because it has the ability to block or reflect electromagnetic waves, it affects GPS, short-wave radio, satellite transmission, and other radio-based technologies. It is also important that, since it can expand and contract, it will also cause the satellite orbit to decay prematurely or to increase the radiation exposure of the astronauts or high-altitude pilots.
This means understanding how the ionosphere works is meaningful for scientists, but NASA says it's not easy to study the ionosphere using traditional satellites or high-altitude balloons. To fill this gap, ICON will carry four sets of tools: Michelson Interferometer for Global High-Resolution Thermospheric Imaging (MIGHTI), Ion Velocity Meter for Measuring the Velocity and Temperature of Charged Particles in the Earth's Atmosphere, and a pair at extremes. And a spectroscope for distinguishing charged and non-charged particles in far-ultraviolet spectroscopy.
It is reported that the goal of this mission is to learn more about the ionosphere by observing phenomena such as airglow. Atmospheric glow is a color band formed in the upper atmosphere through a process similar to Aurora production. Like the aurora, glow is caused by solar ionized gases, but glow is found all over the world, not just in the high latitudes of the northern and southern hemispheres. By studying these, NASA hopes to learn more about the density, composition, dynamics and structure of the ionosphere.
"ICON has an important task to do-to help us understand the dynamic space environment near our home," said Nicola Fox, director of solar physics at NASA headquarters in Washington. "icon will be the first task to track what's going on in the atmosphere and in space at the same time to see how they interact and lead to changes that could destroy our communications systems."