Nasa blasts off space laser satellite to track ice loss on Earth

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

United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today that the last Delta II rocket will join a lineup of historic rockets in the Rocket Garden on display at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

On Saturday, September 15, NASA launched its most advanced space laser of all time as part of a $1 billion mission aimed at revealing the extent to which climate change has affected Earth's ice sheet surface elevation.

The final telemetry in Delta II history is expected about 2 hours after launch, sometime prior to the second stage impacting and sinking into the South Pacific Ocean. It was the final flight of the Delta II rocket, which has been in use since 1989.

ICESat-2 carries a single instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

ICESat-2 will operate in a series of orbits that will travel over the poles to allow it to monitor the ice sheets and glaciers, many of which are undergoing significant change.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation's most experienced and reliable launch service provider.

"With this mission we continue humankind's exploration of the remote polar regions of our planet and advance our understanding of how ongoing changes of Earth's ice cover at the poles and elsewhere will affect lives around the world, now and in the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Final Delta 2 rocket launch puts NASA’s ICESAT-2 satellite in orbit to monitor ice
Delta II set for final launch after nearly 30 years

The launch is a follow up to a satellite that was launched in 2003 and operated until 2009, the AP reported.

ICESat-2 will measure the height of our changing Earth, one laser pulse at a time, 10,000 laser pulses per second.

The launch was conducted from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and was broadcast live on the company's website.

By measuring the time it takes the photons to complete a round trip - about 3.3 thousandths of a second - scientists can calculate how far away an ice surface is, compare it to surrounding areas and determine its relative height and thickness.

ICESat-2 suffered delays because of problems with ATLAS, notably a failure of one of its lasers.

'We are really looking forward to making those data available to the science community as quickly as possible so we can begin to explore what ICESat-2 can tell us about our complex home planet'. Measurements will be taken every 0.7m along the satellite's path.

According to the university, the micro-satellites each weigh 8 pounds and are about the size of a loaf of bread, and they're created to gather scientific data on magnetic storms in near-Earth space.

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