NASA launches ICESat-2 to track global ice loss

NASA launches ICESat-2 to track global ice loss

A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, the last ever to fly, launches NASA's ICESat-2 satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California before dawn on September 15, 2018.

A NASA satellite created to precisely measure changes in Earth's ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and vegetation was launched into orbit from California early Saturday. This was the last ever Delta 2 rocket launch.

The Delta II had its first successful launch on Valentine's Day, 1989.

Over the course of its career, Delta II has managed an impressive ~99% success rate, launching dozens of successful scientific missions to explore asteroids, comets, the Moon, the sun, exoplanets, Mars, and more.

The satellite's instrument, called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System, or Atlas, will also measure the heights of forests to determine the amount of vegetation in a region, as well as monitor other attributes of land surfaces, water and clouds. Each laser in a pair sits 295 feet (90 meters) apart, and each pair of lasers lies 2.1 miles (3.3 kilometers) from one another.

This weekend, NASA is planning to launch a spacecraft that will use half a dozen bright-green laser beams to measure seasonal and annual changes to Earth's icy poles.

The new laser will fire 10,000 times in one second, compared to the original ICESat which fired 40 times a second.

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According to the Verge, it will pass over the same position on the planet every 91 days, which will allow program scientists to observe how the polar ice sheets are changing over time.

NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, lifted off at 9:02 a.m. EDT (6:02 a.m. PDT or 1302 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California.

Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems built the satellite, which weighed 1,514 kilograms at launch.

"Set your alarm to see lift-off - no earlier than 8:46am ET", NASA tweeted a few hours ago. Four CubeSats accompanied the ICESat-2 into space.

"ATLAS has the ability to time tag a single photon to billionth of a second accuracy, said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, the ATLAS instrument manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center".

Today's launch will be met by favorable weather conditions, the space agency announced yesterday, although the area's propensity for fog might hinder the locals' plans of watching the rocket blast off into space.

The Delta II has carried the majority of the Iridium communication satellites in orbit between 1998 and 2002.

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