NASA Scrubs ICON Launch At The Last Minute

The space agency postponed today’s launch of its ICON mission to Earth’s ionosphere due to a rocket problem.

Illustration of the ICON spacecraft.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith

The space agency postponed today’s launch of its ICON mission to Earth’s ionosphere due to a rocket problem.

Earlier this morning, a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket was scheduled to launch NASA’s latest mission to Earth’s ionosphere, or the ionized part of the upper atmosphere extending for up to 400 miles above the surface of the planet. Dubbed ICON, this is NASA’s second ionospheric mission — after GOLD took to space this January — and is tasked with investigating the edge of space by monitoring the airglow layers in our planet’s upper atmosphere.

As the Inquisitr recently reported, the Pegasus rocket was slated to soar to 40,000 feet on board a Stargazer L-1011 aircraft, taking off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 3 a.m. EST. The Northrop Grumman rocket was due to air-drop from the Stargazer five minutes into the flight and travel to low-Earth orbit, where it was supposed to deploy the ICON spacecraft at around 3:16 a.m. EST.

But ICON will have to wait a little while longer before it can blast off into orbit to study the boundary between Earth and space. Today’s launch was aborted due to an electrical problem just minutes before the Stargazer was about to lift off, NASA announced in an update.

While the Stargazer did fly to the launch site — located 200 miles east of Daytona Beach in Florida — a little less than an hour before the Pegasus drop, the rocket and its payload were never released on account of an “anomaly” detected on the way there.

“We have encountered an anomaly while ferrying the Pegasus XL for the launch of ICON. The L-1011 is returning to base for investigation. The team is evaluating the next launch attempt,” the space agency wrote on Twitter a few hours ago.

According to a statement from Northrop Grumman, the decision to postpone the rocket launch came after the company received the results from a captive carry test flight of the Stargazer and the Pegasus.

“NASA Northrop Grumman scrubbed today’s launch of Pegasus XL due to off-nominal data received during the captive carry flight,” the rocket maker posted on Twitter earlier today.

As NASA points out, “the ICON spacecraft remains healthy.” The space agency is currently targeting a new launch date for November 8.

This is the latest in a series of technical issues experienced by Northrop Grumman and which have previously delayed the ICON launch two other times — in late October and in June.

The ICON mission was originally slated to launch on October 26, notes NASA Spaceflight. However, the liftoff was pushed back after Northrop Grumman discovered an issue with the launcher system. In order to diagnose the problem, the company decided to conduct the aforementioned captive carry test flight.

As the media outlet points out, this test flight is the equivalent of the static fire test that SpaceX performs ahead of its Falcon rocket launches. United Launch Alliance employs a similar procedure known as Wet Dress Rehearsals, which is meant to verify that the company’s Atlas V and Delta IV rockets are ready for takeoff.

The Pegasus captive carry test took place on October 28 and saw the rocket fly through a launch-day profile together with its ICON payload, in order to check all the systems aboard the rocket, the Stargazer aircraft, and the NASA spacecraft.

Although the mission was officially cleared for launch on November 6, the electrical glitch returned during the trip to the drop zone, forcing NASA and Northrop Grumman to scrub today’s liftoff.