NASA counts down to launch of laser study of ice sheets

NASA counts down to launch of laser study of ice sheets

NASA counts down to launch of laser study of ice sheets

The satellite with a three-year mission was launched at 9.02 a.m EDT on September 15, with liftoff aboard a Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

A Nasa satellite created to precisely measure changes in Earth's ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and vegetation has been launched into polar orbit.

The United Launch Alliance rocket is scheduled for launch at 5:46 a.m., and it will mark the final mission of the Delta II rocket, which has been in use since 1989.

After a 30-year career and countless memorable missions, the Delta II rocket is now being retired and will soar to the skies one last time bright and early this morning to deliver a three-satellite payload into orbit. Thanks to ICESat-2, the rocket went out with a streak of 100 successful launches in a row.

The first Delta 2 lifted off February 14, 1989, and since then it has been the launch vehicle for Global Positioning System orbiters, Earth-observing and commercial satellites, and interplanetary missions including the twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

The 3,340-pound satellite, built by Northrup Grumman, is equipped with a single instrument known as ATLAS, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System, that was developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Measurements will be taken every 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) along the satellite's path.

Timing the departure and arrival times of returning photons to within a billionth of a second, the satellite will be able to determine the thickness of ice below the spacecraft, giving scientists insights into how ice sheets change over time and how the loss of ice due to global warming and other factors might affect sea levels around the world. ATLAS will primarily be used to measure the elevation of ice sheets and changes in their size, but will also measure the height of vegetation on land.

Originally built by McDonnell Douglass, the rockets are now run by United Launch Alliance, which still launches payloads with the Atlas rockets and is designing a new rocket, the Vulcan Centaur. "ICESat-2 is going to do cutting-edge, scientific data gathering".

According to ULA, McDonnell Douglas created the rocket in the late 1980s to launch Global Positioning System satellites for the Air Force.

Delta II is trucked to the launch pad ahead prior to launch.

NASA had earlier in the day said the weather is favourable for the launch.

"ICESat-2 will let us get at the thickness by measuring the sea ice freeboard - that's the height of the sea ice above the ocean", Tom Neumann, ICESat-2's deputy project scientist, told UPI. On its last journey into space, the Delta II rocket will also give a ride to a pair of mini-satellites called ELFIN (Electron Losses and Fields Investigation), NASA revealed yesterday.

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