Pegasus XL rocket successfully launches NASA’s satellite to study ionosphere

After year-long delay, Northrop Grumman launches ICON satellite

Northrop Grumman's Pegasus XL rocket successfully launched NASA's satellite Thursday night on its mission to study the ionosphere

The NASA spacecraft will observe colorful space weather happening at a space station astronaut's-eye view. The satellite called ICON, which stands for Ionospheric Connection Explorer, will study the frontier of space, known as the ionosphere.

Unlike most rockets, Pegasus can launch from almost anywhere there is a runway because it hitches a ride via airplane.

Northrop Grumman's plane Stargazer took off from Cape Canaveral Thursday evening, carrying the rocket to altitude over the Atlantic Ocean before dropping Pegasus XL to launch ICON.

This mission was a long-time coming.

Northrop Grumman twice attempted to launch ICON in November last year but a sensor on the rocket gave a reading "not within normal limits," and the launch vehicle and spacecraft were sent back to California for more testing.

This time around the launch was scheduled for Wednesday night but weather conditions were not favorable.

On Thursday, due to a communication issue with Stargazer the first attempt was aborted, but the second time, around at 10 p.m., Stargazer made the drop and Pegasus ignited right on cue.

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