NASA blasts off space laser satellite to track ice loss

NASA blasts off space laser satellite to track ice loss

NASA blasts off space laser satellite to track ice loss

ICEsat-2, as it's called, was ferried up to space by a Delta II rocket out of Vandenberg Air Force base in California.

Delta II rocket carrying launch NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on September 15, 2018.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is retiring the Delta II as it focuses more on its Delta IV and Atlas V rockets.

Today's pre-dawn liftoff served as a swan song for the Delta 2, a class of rockets that made its debut in 1989 and has been launched 155 times. NASA contracted the ULA rocket launch for $96.6 million in 2013.

Delta 2 rockets have launched scores of satellite telephone relay stations, seven Mars missions - including the Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity rovers - numerous NASA astronomy missions, Earth observation satellites and commercial payloads.

The laser, known as ATLAS (Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System), splits into six beams and fires 10,000 pulses per second to collect very precise measurements for scientists to analyze. Data from ICESat-2 will be available to the public through the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Delta 2's RS-27A main engine burst to life at 6:02 a.m.

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

In addition to measuring minute changes in sea and land ice, ICE-Sat-2 will use its height-measuring lasers to track sea levels, ocean waves and forest canopies.

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

"Watching and understanding how it [ice] is changing helps us understand why it's changing", said Waleed Abdalati, a geographer at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a concept designer of ICESat-2. 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. The ICESat-2 will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

"We are going to be able to look at specifically how the ice is changing just over the course of a single year", said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA.

Every three months, the spacecraft will travel over a total of 1,387 orbital paths, then begin to retrace its steps, ensuring it revisits the same swath of ice in 91-day increments.

The Delta II has carried the majority of the Iridium communication satellites in orbit between 1998 and 2002. "Space weather research is also crucial for space tourism and space exploration".

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