WASHINGTON ­— Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., got a $50 million contract to build a space weather satellite for NASA, the company said April 29.

Orbital’s contract is for the design, manufacture, integration and testing of NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (Icon) spacecraft. The small solar-science satellite will be built on Orbital’s LEOStar-2 spacecraft bus, a platform that was designed for a five-year mission and has been the basis of numerous NASA science spacecraft.  

Icon is slated to launch in 2017 on a two-year mission to study the ionosphere, a region of space ranging from about 90 kilometers to 900 kilometers above Earth’s surface that is populated with electrically charged particles that can disrupt radio signals from satellites.

Icon is NASA’s latest stand-alone heliophysics small explorer mission. The agency announced it would fund the probe April 12. Icon, like all small explorer missions, is cost-capped at $200 million, including launch. Its principal investigator is Thomas Immel of the University of California, Berkeley.

News about the ICON contract comes less than a week after Orbital announced it got a contract for another NASA science mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Orbital announced April 24 that it got a four-year, $75 million NASA contract to build that satellite — also on a LEOStar-2 bus — which will hunt for habitable planets orbiting distant stars. Like ICON, TESS is slated for launch in 2017. 

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...