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  • Interferometer in the Running for ICON Mission
Nov 2011
WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2011 — The Michelson Interferometer for Global High-resolution Thermospheric Imaging (MIGHTI) will be considered as an addition to NASA’s proposed Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission, which would fly instruments designed to collect data on the extreme variability in the Earth’s ionosphere.

MIGHTI, created by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), is designed to measure the neutral winds and temperatures in the Earth’s low-latitude thermosphere. It uses the DASH (Doppler Asymmetric Spatial Heterodyne spectroscopy) technique, which was co-invented and pioneered by NRL. The payload consists of two identical units that will observe the Earth’s thermosphere with perpendicular viewing directions. As ICON travels eastward and continuously images the thermosphere and ionosphere, MIGHTI will measure the vector components of the vertical wind profile. Such data will help scientists understand variations in the ionosphere, which can interfere with communications and geopositioning signals.

Ionospheres act as a boundary between planetary atmospheres and space, containing weakly ionized plasmas that are strongly coupled to their neutral atmospheres, but also influenced by the conditions in the space environment. They experience a constant tug-of-war between these external and internal influences, and they exhibit a remarkable set of nonlinear behaviors.

The ICON mission proposal is one of five selected for NASA’s Explorer missions. With its selection for further evaluation, the NRL MIGHTI team, led by Christoph R. Englert of NRL’s Space Science Division, will receive NASA funding and work for 11 months to further develop the MIGHTI concept. Subsequently, NASA will select up to two of the Explorer mission proposals to proceed toward flight, with launches expected as early as 2016.

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The gas of charged particles that begins approximately 50 km above the surface of the Earth and contains a sufficient quantity of electrons and ions to affect the propagation of radio waves.
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