NASA has picked rocket and satellite maker Orbital Sciences (NYSE: ORB ) to build its new Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) .
On Monday, Orbital announced receipt of the two-year, $50 million contract. Cooperating with NASA and the University of California, Berkeley, Orbital will use its LEOStar-2 spacecraft as the basis for ICON, integrating supplementary systems upon it.
Once orbited in 2017, ICON will investigate how "space weather" storms in the ionosphere, located at the globe's edge of outer space, interact with "terrestrial" weather closer to Earth's surface. Fluctuations in the ionosphere are said to be capable of disrupting satellite and radio communications here on earth, lending real-world importance to understanding exactly what's happening "up there" with the weather.
This is Orbital's second major contract win from NASA in as many weeks. Last week, the company announced a $75 million contract to build the "TESS" (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite).