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Not your average rocket launch; 45th SW supports Pegasus ICON

The Orbital ATK L-1011 Stargazer aircraft flies over the Atlantic Ocean carrying the Pegasus XL rocket with eight Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System spacecraft. The 45th Space Wing supported Orbital ATK’s successful rocket launch Dec. 15 at 8:37 a.m. from the L-1011 carrier aircraft which took off from the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. According to NASA, CYGNSS satellites will make frequent and accurate measurements of ocean surface winds throughout the life cycle of tropical storms and hurricanes. The data that CYGNSS provides will enable scientists to probe key air-sea interaction processes that take place near the core of storms, which are rapidly changing and play a crucial role in the beginning and intensification of hurricanes. (Courtesy photo by NASA/Lori Losey)

The 45th Space Wing supported the successful launch of the Pegasus ICON rocket Nov. 3, 2018 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Skid Strip, Fla. Northrup Grumman's Pegasus XL rocket carried NASA's Ionospheric Connection Explorer satellite to study the Earth's ionosphere and how it affects the dissemination of radio waves in distant regions of the Earth. (Pegasus CYNGSS launch pictured) (Courtesy photo by NASA/Lori Losey)


The 45th Space Wing supported the Pegasus ICON rocket launch on Nov. 7, 2018 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Skid Strip.

Skid Strip? That’s quite different than a standard launch from the Cape – don’t rockets launch from pads? The skid strip, a smaller flight line on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, served as the acting “launch pad” for an L-1011 aircraft as it took flight and air-launched the Pegasus ICON.

Aside from providing land for the L-1011 to take-off, according to 1st Lt. Amanda Parr, 45th Range Squadron range operations commander, the 45th SW provided the same type of support for the Pegasus that it would for any rocket launching from a pad.

“We made sure we had fair weather conditions and positive control over the launch vehicle at all times,” said Parr. “We also kept track of the surveillance area around the Eastern Range so that the public, the vehicle, the satellite and our team stayed safe during the launch of the rocket.”

Northrup Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket carried NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite into orbit to study the Earth’s ionosphere.

The ionosphere, which lies approximately 55 to 621 miles above the Earth’s surface, is the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that is ionized by solar and cosmic radiation. Meaning, the ionosphere not only plays an important role with electricity production in the atmosphere, but a practical role as well, because it influences radio wave deliverance to distant places on Earth.  

From touchdown of the L-1011 aircraft to liftoff and launch of the Pegasus ICON, the 45th SW is dedicated to maintaining its record of delivering assured access of space to the Nation – steering the spaceport of the future even closer to its Drive to 48 launches a year.