NASA launches laser satellite ICESat-2 to measure ice loss

18 September, 2018, 12:09 | Author: Emmett Howard
  • NASA on 15 September 2018 showing the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the NASA Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 onboard shortly after the mobile service tower at SLC-2 was rolled

NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) successfully launched from California at 9:02 a.m. EDT Saturday, embarking on its mission to measure the ice of Earth's frozen reaches with unprecedented accuracy.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is retiring the Delta II as it focuses more on its Delta IV and Atlas V rockets. The early moments of the flight appeared same old because the vehicle accelerated in the direction of orbit.The Delta 2 debuted in February 1989 when it launched the principle operational International Positioning Scheme satellite from Cape Canaveral.

Richard Slonaker, ICESat-2 program executive at NASA, told reporters ahead of the launch that this mission is "exceptionally important for science".

A Delta 2 rocket lifted off September 15 carrying a NASA Earth science satellite on the final flight of a vehicle whose heritage dates back to the beginning of the Space Age. Launching from the same air base, ICESat-2 will monitor the planet's polar ice with a new-generation laser instrument dubbed ATLAS (Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System). As its successor, ICESat-2 will fill in more detail about the bigger picture by examining how ice cover changes over the course of one year. The launch window will remain open for 2.5 hours, with a backup window available on Sunday morning.

ICESat-2 carries a single instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), which is created to measure the thickness of the Earth's ice sheets using a laser light split into six beams that pulse 10,000 times per second.

Final Delta 2 rocket launch puts NASA’s ICESAT-2 satellite in orbit to monitor ice

The rocket will also be carrying four micro-satellites known as CubeSats. The ICESat-2 will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

"I'm a little bit melancholy about this", said Tim Dunn, NASA launch director, at the briefing. We can use the two-way travel time of that laser pulse to accurately and precisely get a sense of the height of the surface of the earth.

ATLAS produces six finely tuned laser beams of bright-green light, which it beams down to bounce off Earth's surface.

It will take a measurement every 2.3ft (70cm) along the satellite's path. "ICESat-2 will help scientists investigate why, and how much, our cryosphere is changing in a warming climate, while also measuring heights across Earth's temperate and tropical region and take stock of the vegetation in forests worldwide".

The Delta II has carried the majority of the Iridium communication satellites in orbit between 1998 and 2002. ICESat-2 was first proposed in 2008, but construction didn't begin until 2010, with an estimated launch date in 2015. With that data, scientists can forecast its likely impact on the world.

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