Global aerospace and defence technology company Northrop Grumman has launched Nasa’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite aboard its Pegasus XL rocket in Florida, US.

The satellite is the ninth science mission built and launched by Northrop Grumman.

It also marks the 44th overall flight of the privately developed commercial space launch vehicle.

The company’s L-1011 carrier aircraft, Stargazer, transported the spacecraft during the initial phase of the launch.

The aircraft took off from the Skid Strip runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Pegasus then delivered ICON to its intended 575km orbit after release from Stargazer.

Northrop Grumman launch vehicles vice-president Rich Straka said: “We are proud to have another successful launch of Pegasus. Today’s launch is a testament to the team’s expertise and determination to provide our customers with mission success.”

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ICON was built at Northrop Grumman’s Dulles satellite manufacturing facility. It was tested and verified at the company’s facility in Gilbert, Arizona.

It has been built based on Northrop Grumman’s flight-proven LEOStar-2 spacecraft bus.

ICON is designed to study the Earth’s ionosphere.

The mission is part of Nasa’s Explorer Program managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Northrop Grumman civil and commercial satellites vice-president Steve Krein said: “Our initial data shows the spacecraft is in good health and performing as expected. The successful launch of ICON continues to demonstrate Northrop Grumman’s legacy of delivering innovative space science missions for Nasa.

“ICON marks the latest in a long line of scientific spacecraft we have developed and built for Nasa over the last 35 years.”