U.S. Markets open in 3 hrs 30 mins

Orbital Sciences to design satellite for NASA

DULLES, Va. (AP) -- Orbital Sciences Corp. has won a $50 million contract to build a new satellite for NASA, the space technology company said Monday.

The Dulles, Va.-based company will create and test a new heliophysics science satellite that is responsible for investigating the connection between space weather and Earth's terrestrial weather.

Orbital said the research mission is intended to improve the understanding of the ionosphere and forecasting of space weather phenomena. Fluctuations in the ionosphere, which is at the edge of space where the sun ionizes the air to create charged particles, can disrupt satellite and radio communications, such as the GPS signals for commercial aircraft.

NASA's research mission follows a recent scientific discovery that found that the ionosphere is significantly influenced by storms in the lower atmosphere. The two-year project will be led by the University of California at Berkeley and is planned to launch in 2017.

Shares of Orbital, which has built a number of satellites for NASA over the years, added 12 cents to reach $17.75 by midday, in line with the broader market.