• NASA's ICON spacecraft launches off Florida's Space Coast

    By: Melonie Holt , James Tutten

    Updated:

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Crews at NASA's Kennedy Space Center are doing their final preparations for the long-delayed ICON mission.

    The ICON, or Ionospheric Connection Explorer, satellite aims to give NASA a better understanding of the earth's upper atmosphere.

    A Northrop Grumman Pegasus rocket delivered the ICON spacecraft into orbit after launching from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station around 10 p.m. Thursday. The was originally scheduled for Wednesday night, but delays a day due to weather.

    Read: NASA wants citizen scientists to take pictures of clouds; here's why

    The mission could lead to better communications on Earth in an area of the upper atmosphere that is in a constant state of flux.

    Changes in the ionosphere can lead to the distortion or even the complete disruption of communications signals and a greater understanding of the region could lessen those issues.

    ICON will allow researchers to explore the boundary where space weather and the earth's weather mix, and pave the way for mitigating the ionosphere's effects on technology.

    Read: Send your name to the Red Planet on NASA's Mars 2020 Rover

    The ionosphere is the region of the upper atmosphere used to bounce radio communications, and is an area that all GPS signals must travel through. 

    Last year, NASA and Northrop Grumman delayed the ICON mission to conduct more pre-launch testing on the payload's Pegasus rocket.

    "There's no second chance on these types of missions, and we wanted to get it right," said NASA launch director Omar Baez.

    Brad Pitt asks astronaut: Who was better? Clooney or me?

    Unlike many other Space Coast launches, ICON will be flown by a Stargazer aircraft 50 to 100 miles off the coast, and the Pegasus rocket will be dropped at an altitude of about 40,000 feet over the ocean.

    The rocket will free-fall for five seconds before igniting its first-stage motor. If all goes well, ICON will reach orbit about 10 minutes later. 

    DOWNLOAD: Free WFTV News & Weather Apps

    Not near a TV? Click here to watch WFTV newscasts live

    Watch Live: Doppler 9 HD

    Next Up: